Only a week after Venice residents decried the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man near the boardwalk, area civil rights activists are asking why an African-American man was attacked by cops as he tried to recharge his electric vehicle at a public car-charging station in Santa Monica.
Police say their confrontation with 36-year-old Justin Palmer happened April 21. In a statement, the Santa Monica Police Department said officers were conducting a routine check of Virginia Avenue Park when they came across the suspect and told him “the park closes at 11 p.m.”
However, no exact time for the confrontation was noted. That's an important point that we'll discuss below.
The department contends that, when asked to leave, Palmer refused and then allegedly obstructed police, precipitating use-of-force that included pepper spray and physical restraint.
According to the department:
The subject repeatedly refused to leave the park and, after numerous requests, officers made the decision to issue him a citation for violating the city's park closure law. When officers requested to see his identification, he repeatedly refused to provide it. The subject was placed under arrest for violation of the municipal park closure ordinance and delaying and obstructing an officer in the course of his duties.
After his arrest, the suspect complained of pain and was briefly hospitalized, cops said.
Police said that the park closing time applied to the charging station area and that this was “clearly posted.” But television news reports indicated that there was not closure-time signage around the charging spaces.
What's more, a KTLA News review of police records discovered that Palmer's arrest was logged at 10:54 p.m., which is before the park curfew.
The Santa Monica Venice Branch of the NAACP contends in a statement that …
… other residents that are not African-American have said they have never been approached by SMPD for charging their vehicles after 11 p.m. at Virginia Avenue Park.
The organization alleges that Palmer was the subject of “excessive force and brutality” and that he was racially profiled by cops:
SMPD has failed in the view of the community and the NAACP to exercise restraint that would have prevented things from escalating with injuries to Mr. Palmer, emotional trauma to his family and to the witness that videoed part of the altercation.
The group wants Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline A. Seabrooks, who is African-American, to “fast track” its investigation into the incident. The race, ethnicity and names of the officers in question have not been revealed.
The NAACP chapter's president, Darrell Goode, also wants to meet with Seabrooks and with Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown to discuss the department's use-of-force policy. Goode says he plans to hold a noon press conference at the park to discuss the case.
Palmer, meanwhile, says the city attorney wrote a letter to him immediately after the arrest to state that charges would not be filed against him. We have to wonder if, when asked to leave, Palmer's options were limited as a result of his car's state of charge.
Video of some of the arrest was captured by an onlooker, but it doesn't shed much light on the confrontation. A clip shows Palmer in cuffs and on the ground.
The woman who captured the video, who appears to be Asian-American, told reporters she was appalled by the cops' actions.
Palmer reportedly plans to file a federal lawsuit against the department.