The Davis Police Department’s Professional Standard Unit launched an investigation this week to determine exactly what occurred when a Davis police officer questioned an African-American resident in front of his West Davis home last month.
On April 17, longtime resident Eli Davis was mowing his front lawn when a police officer stopped in front of his driveway to ask whether he lived there. The officer first had driven by, but then circled back, according to the letter Davis wrote to The Enterprise last week.
Davis said that he did live there, but the officer persisted, saying that he “fit the description” of someone the police were looking for, and asked for identification. Once Davis produced the identification from his home, the officer left, explaining that it was clear he lived there because he had no trouble entering.
Once the officer had gone, Davis called the Police Department to inquire whether a criminal event had taken place nearby involving someone fitting his description: a tall, slender, black male.
But the person who answered the phone was not aware of any such incident.
“I fear that the only description that fit is that of being a black American male, and therefore is an image of his ignorance,” Davis wrote about the officer. “His action was more gut reaction of ‘see a black male’ and think ‘suspect of something.’ ”
Davis police Lt. Glenn Glasgow told The Enterprise on Thursday, however, that the department’s call-taker was mistaken and that an incident involving someone who matched Davis’ description had occurred.
“Community members called in at a little after 2 p.m. (about) a residential burglary occurring at that moment,” Glasgow said. “The person who called described the alleged suspect as an African-American adult male and then also provided a clothing description. Our officers got into the area, set up a perimeter and, during the course of the investigation, contacted several African-American males in the immediate area (who matched the description). … Mr. Davis was one of them.”
Glasgow said it was a miscommunication on the part of the department.
He also added that while Davis has not filed a formal complaint, the department will review the incident thoroughly.
“We are reviewing the circumstances surrounding the incident, as well as his claim of racial profiling,” Glasgow said. “We take these allegations very seriously.”
As for the burglary, Glasgow said the resident who called the police initially had misidentified a solicitor who was walking around the neighborhood.
Davis could not be reached for comment on the matter.
Since his letter was published in The Enterprise, several of Davis’ neighbors also have written to voice their dissatisfaction over the way their longtime neighbor was treated by the officer.
Neighbors wrote that “We also mow our lawns and keep up our yards, but will not be approached by a Davis police officer to show identification and prove we live in our homes. We are appalled that our good African-American neighbor had to endure such treatment recently.”
Leo Gonzalez, who lives just up the street, said Thursday that Davis mostly keeps to himself, but that he and Davis are friendly to one another, often exchanging waves when Davis pedals by on his bike. Gonzalez clearly was perturbed by the actions of the police officer.
Glasgow said the department demands non-biased policing and that it requires officers to take a state-mandated training course for racial sensitivity and profiling, called “Racial & Cultural Diversity Training; Racial Profiling,” every five years.
“The law that governs this training as well as legislatively mandated topics to be covered can be found by reading CA penal code section 13519.4,” Glasgow clarified in an email. “Our department trainers have been certified through (Peace Officer Standards and Training) and have attended The Museum of Tolerance.”
In addition to the internal investigation, the police also have contacted Davis police ombudsman Bob Aaronson, who has contracted with the city for the past six years, to review the case once it’s finished.
Aaronson told The Enterprise on Thursday that because an investigation hasn’t been completed and because he has no first-hand evidence, he can’t make any definitive conclusions about what happened.
“Obviously, one of the goals when police officers make contact with citizens is that, at the end of the contact, the citizens may not be happy with the intrusion, but at least it’s been explained to them in a way they can understand it and they can put it in context,” Aaronson said.
“Based on (the letter), my assumption is that if that was done, it was not done adequately.”
— Reach Tom Sakash at email@example.com or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash