LBPD police chief added as defendant to lawsuit alleging racial profiling

A federal judge Wednesday granted a motion to add Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna as a defendant in a racial profiling lawsuit, attorneys said.

In the ruling by U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr., the district court held that Luna “could be (held) personally liable for his role in promulgating, maintaining, and encouraging the LBPD policies and practices that resulted in the alleged constitutional violations carried out against plaintiffs on the Metro Blue Line in Long Beach.”

The ruling comes on the heels of newly released data which show that Black riders in Long Beach were disproportionately stopped by the LBPD on suspicion of fare evasion last year. Black riders accounted for 62% of all stops for failure to pay on Long Beach transit buses and the Metro Blue Line, despite representing only about 20% of ridership, according to plaintiffs’ attorney Lisa Holder.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles federal court, stems from an alleged racial profiling incident on Valentine’s Day in 2017 at the Metro Blue Line Willow station when a Black couple was stopped for a fare enforcement check, as they were attempting to leave the station.

Officers ticketed the male member of the couple, and detained, handcuffed and arrested the woman, who then spent two days in jail for what could only have been punishable as an administrative penalty of $25, even if she had been guilty of fare evasion, Holder alleged.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are seeking a federal court injunction to prohibit alleged discriminatory fare enforcement and over-policing policies on Los Angeles County Metro transit, as well as more transparency and accountability measures to curtail what they allege is unconstitutional policing by the LBPD.

Long Beach police recently started releasing a large amount of data about who is stopped by the department under new rules set by the state’s Racial and Identity Profiling Act. In addition to information about who is detained for fare evasion, the data showed Black drivers were stopped at a rate disproportionate to the city’s population. They were also more likely to be searched even though officers found contraband less frequently.

Talking about that data, LBPD Assistant Chief Wally Hebeish previously told the Long Beach Post that the department was aware of the data and “We want to get better. We want to evolve. We want to further become a department that’s reflective of the community.”

When the data was released last month, Rich Chambers, president of the Long Beach Police Officers Association, said the group was against racial profiling, but collection and analysis of the data “must be comprehensive and tell the whole story.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to provide more context about when Hebeish and Chambers made their comments.

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