Police thought a Black 17-year-old was a burglar in his own home, lawsuit says

Long Beach is poised to pay $425,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging police racially profiled a Black teenager when officers barged into his house while pointing guns at him and his brother.

Cristopher Grim, then 17, was in his own home on May 11, 2018, when he says three Long Beach police officers arrived and treated him like a burglar—yelling at him to unlock the door and pulling him out of the house before realizing he lived there.

The encounter, Grim says, gave him anxiety with acid reflux so severe that he has to spit into a bottle every couple of minutes.

“My whole life changed just off of that one incident that could’ve been easily avoided if they’d just knocked on the door,” said Grim.

Police don’t dispute that they briefly detained Grim and his older brother, but Long Beach’s attorneys argue the stop was justified. There was no racial motivation, the city says in court papers. The three involved officers also deny—or say they don’t remember—pointing their guns at the brothers.

There’s no video or third-party witnesses to corroborate either side, according to attorney Carl Douglas, who represents the brothers in their lawsuit against the city of Long Beach. Instead of letting a jury decide the facts and any potential penalty, the parties recently agreed to the $425,000 settlement.

The Long Beach City Council will vote on whether to approve the payout at its meeting Tuesday night.

“I say the city got off cheap,” said Douglas, calling the situation a case of “walking while Black” in a predominantly White neighborhood.

He said Grim was exercising in his East Long Beach neighborhood—a normal part of his routine while doing schoolwork at home—when a neighbor called police to report he looked suspicious.

Grim had lived in the neighborhood for about a year, but the caller, who Douglas said was White, did not recognize him. The caller told police Grim was looking into homes and parked cars and then fled when he came across someone gardening.

In the lawsuit, Grim says he actually took off running when he noticed that a car—driven by the concerned neighbor—was following him. Unaware of the call to police, Grim hurried back to his house about two blocks from Conant Street and Bellflower Boulevard. He entered his backyard through the gate he’d left open, went inside and locked the door, according to his lawsuit.

When officers arrived and were told someone had run into the yard, they moved in, guns drawn, according to court records. The home looked empty and the driveway gate was ajar; they feared an armed burglar might be inside while the owners were off at work, Deputy City Attorney Matthew Peters wrote.

The brothers’ lawsuit says officers saw Grim through a window and pointed their guns at him—ordering him to freeze and then unlock the door. The feeling he had in that moment is hard to explain, Grim said, “because so much goes through your head at the time you literally think you’re about to die.”

Officers ordered Grim out of the house and patted him down before going inside. There, they found Grim’s brother, Devaughn White, in his underwear and began quizzing the siblings on whether they lived at the home, Douglas said.

Despite the pictures of them on the walls, police didn’t believe it was their home until they spoke to their mother on the phone, the brothers’ lawsuit alleges.

“This is a mother who is working hard, raising her family,” Douglas said. “She has two African-American men who have never had any negative contact with the law. She works hard and wants to provide them the same environment that every parent wants for their children.”

Instead, Douglas said, the family was greeted with suspicion from a White neighbor and three White police officers.

“The problem is Cris doesn’t look like the officer’s brother or the officer’s father or the officer’s child,” the attorney said.

Long Beach police have subjected Black people to disproportionate scrutiny in the past, according to data analyzed by the Post. In 2019, LBPD officers were more likely to stop and search Black motorists even though they were less likely to find contraband when they did.

The Long Beach Police Department did not answer questions about whether the officers in Grim and White’s case faced any discipline after their mother complained. All three are still employed by the LBPD, spokesman Brandon Fahey said.

“We deny any allegations of racial profiling and reaffirm our commitment to equal treatment for all,” Fahey said in an email.

In response to the lawsuit, the city’s attorneys said there was “no evidence of racial animus.” They argued police acted reasonably based on the erroneous reports of a potential burglary. Douglas said he did not try to sue the neighbor who made the original call, fearing it would be too difficult to overcome the legal protections provided to people reporting crimes.

Grim estimates the officers detained him for only about 30 minutes, but he says the consequences have been long-lasting. At 21 years old, he was only recently able to get his driver’s license and has not been able to attend college as planned, he said.

After the incident, his family moved to Apple Valley where they feel safer, according to Douglas.

“There are lives behind these cases, and money doesn’t just make it all right,” Douglas said.

Mentally ill man ‘needed help, not beatings,’ says attorney announcing lawsuit against LBPD

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Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram. He lives in Torrance with his wife, Lindsey, and their two young children.
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