Lawsuit Alleges San Jose Police Racially Profiled Black Family

A federal lawsuit filed Monday levels new racial profiling allegations against the San Jose Police Department.

The suit, filed by African-American couple Emmanuel Stephens and Jasmine Whitley, claims that Stephens and his two daughters were followed while driving before an officer drew his gun on the family outside their home. The only reason police targeted Stephens, according to the lawsuit, was because of his race.

San Jose police came under scrutiny earlier this year when a survey of traffic stops indicated that officers are more likely to treat African Americans and Latinos as potential suspects. Statistics collected last year showed that police detain black people at far higher rates than other groups—even though those stops rarely led to an arrest.

The same holds true on a national scale. A police-public contact survey by the U.S. Justice Department found that "relatively more black drivers (12.8 percent) than white (9.8 percent) and Hispanic (10.4 percent) drivers were pulled over in a traffic stop during their most recent contact with police."

In other words, people really do get pulled over more for "driving while black."

Another report this year found that never in the history of  SJPD has the agency upheld a citizen's complaint of racial bias. Recently retired Independent Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell said that indicates the agency needs to change the way it reviews allegations of biased policing. Meanwhile, the department recently began field testing body cameras, which could help investigate future claims of profiling and excessive force.

Stephens filed a complaint with Cordell's office last year before taking the matter to court. His lawsuit describes what citywide traffic stop data confirms as a trend: that police are more likely to pull over, handcuff, search and curb-sit black and Latino drivers.

On Oct. 30, 2014, Stephens said he picked up his daughters Davian, 14, and Emani, 7, from school and took them to a mini-mart to get snacks. Officer Alexander Keller saw them at the store and followed the family to their Almaden Valley home.

After Stephens pulled up outside the home, Emani left the car to get the mail, while Davian went in through the house to open the garage door. Then, according to the lawsuit, Officer Keller leapt from his patrol car with his gun drawn.

“Put your hands up!” Officer Keller yelled at Stephens, according to the lawsuit. “Get back, get back.”

Stephens asked what was going on.

“Shut up before I tase you,” Keller allegedly responded.

Emani burst into tears and ran inside to get her mom, Whitley said, telling her that “police have a gun and they’re going to take daddy to jail.”

Whitley said she ran outside to see Keller shoving her husband into his patrol car. When she asked why he was being detained, Keller allegedly yelled at her to “get on the curb and shut up.”

Because of Keller’s behavior, Whitley said she told her daughter to go find a cellphone to record the incident. But Keller stopped the girl in her tracks, according to the case filing, telling her: “If you leave, I’m arresting you too and taking you to juvenile hall.”

Keller held the family for about 20 minutes before two other officers arrived, Stephens said. Whitley said Officer Kevin Cassidy told her that police had received a call about a suspicious black man with a purple backpack.

“We get calls about once a week about suspicious black people and have to check it out to see what’s going on,” Cassidy allegedly told her. “This happens a lot with black people over here.”

Meanwhile, Keller searched the family’s car, which turned up a container of medical marijuana prescribed to Whitley. Whitley showed police her ID and medical marijuana card, but Keller cited her for possession anyway.

Police have declined to comment on the incident, at least for the time being. San Jose Inside has requested more information about what happened that day, as well as the possession charge against Whitley.

Concerns about racial profiling in San Jose are set against a backdrop of national outrage over police violence against black men and women. On Wednesday, prosecutors charged a white Cincinnati policeman with murder for fatally shootingSamuel Dubose, an unarmed black man, during a routine traffic stop last week. The killing follows a succession of similar cases that have fueled riots in Ferguson, Staten Island and Baltimore during the last year.

Another lawsuit accusing San Jose police of racial profiling was filed in May. The class-action civil rights case filed by Shauncey Burt, also a black man, claims San Jose police detained him and searched his car over minor traffic violations three times in five months. Only once was he given a traffic ticket.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the News Editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

32 Comments

  1. > Data collected last year showed that police detain black people at far higher rates than other groups—and the stops rarely led to an arrest.

    And, Planned Parenthood aborts black people at far higher rates than other groups.

    And Ivy League universities admit black peope at far higher rates than other groups.

    And County Clerks issue marriage licenses to black people at far lower rates than to other groups.

    And the federal government issues EBT cards to black people at far higher rates than to other groups.

    And the Democrat Party campaigns in black neighborhoods at far higher rates than in other neighborhoods.

    And the federal government collects taxes from black people at far lower rates than other groups.

    > The only reason police targeted Stephens, according to the lawsuit, was because of his race.

    How do we know it was the “only” reason? How do we know that the police DIDN’T target Stephens because they wanted to see why they had such a high acceptance rate at Berkeley and Stanford?

    • You have not posted any source or evidence of your claims. Post it. It does not exist and is based on your ignorant opinion. No one will take your post for face value without any source for your ridiculous claims.

      • Dr. Mr. Wonderer:

        You were wondering about evidence for claims.

        What is the evidence for the following claim that Mr. Stephens race was “the only reason”?:

        > The only reason police targeted Stephens, according to the lawsuit, was because of his race.

        Is there any evidence that Stephens — or you — identified other possible reasons for police behavior and disproved them?

      • Oh no Jason!
        So you get a strait version, you can Google, Margret Sanger, American Birth Control League, Eugenics,
        use the Wikipedia listing. In Europe Eugenics was used to justify the extermination of Jews.

        In America Margret Sanger was a devout racist, she set up her clinics in black and Hispanic neighborhood for a reason
        and it wasn’t to help little white girls hide their problem from the fathers.

        • Empty.
          Glad to see others read and understand history too – not just a sanitized Disney version.

  2. This story does a great job of living up to the extremely low standard of “reporting” that has been well established by San Jose Inside. A person can say anything they want to in a lawsuit. SJI has apparently made zero effort to verify any of the plaintiffs’ version of events. Was there a call the officer was responding to, or was this just a car stop? We’ll probably never find out here.

    But where this story really goes off the rails is where Wadsworth cites some statistics and then announces “In other words, people really do get pulled over more for ‘driving while black.'” That’s quite a jump in reasoning, and not all supported by the cited statistics.

    A fair and reasonable discussion of this issue would include statistics about the percentage of crimes that are committed the various races. Fair and reasonable, however, has no place in a San Jose Inside story. It is the job of the police is to address crime, both before and after it occurs. In doing so, they’re obviously going to be contacting those engaged in crime. That the numbers are what they are is not the fault of the San Jose Police Department.

    For example, if SJPD wants to combat gang violence, they’re going to focus on gang members and the areas where they live and conduct their business. Isn’t that what they should be doing? Or, if they want to try to prevent the next shooting or stabbing, should they be focusing on white grandmothers in the Rose Garden? After all, they’re a percentage of the population, too.

    I hear non-stop criticism of the police, but never any suggestions about what they should be doing. Should officers be sitting in the station, waiting to respond to the call when the next body drops? If they’re going to stop people, should they be careful to stop people in exact proportion to the population?

    While there certainly are plenty of people who don’t like the way the police operate, there are many more who are happy to see officers doing their jobs, at least in San Jose. They just aren’t as vocal. I know this because for more than 20 years I’ve patrolled the most violent neighborhoods in San Jose, where good, hardworking people are forced by economics to live in close proximity to those who seek to victimize them. They see the truth every day.

  3. This was a call for service Jennifer! Do a little homework! Truly pathetic reporting…. Anyone can throw a laundry list of wild accusations in a lawsuit. You must really be gullible if you think that officer just randomly pulled over a black motorist to point his gun at their children. We have sunk to new lows……

  4. I am wondering what recently retired Independent Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell was actually saying, or admitting to, when she claimed that SJPD has never upheld a single citizen’s complaint of racial bias. I’m sure she was crestfallen but shouldn’t she take some responsibility?

    It’s not the SJPD’s fault that during her entire tenure as the IPA, Cordell was apparently not competent enough to investigate and uphold a single complaint of racial bias. One would think that if such events were as prevalent as Cordell and others constantly shriek that they are, then would it not be incompetence bordering on malfeasance that Cordell and her office was unable to sustain a single racial bias complaint?

    Cordell had an assistant and a staff of 4 and her only real required work product was a single yearly report (undoubtedly researched and written by some poor staffer and not Cordell) and this report was to be submitted to the mayor’s office and supposedly to provide an independent (?!?) review of how terrible SJPD treats its minority community. Will someone please tell me what sort of study, what sort of research protocol, what sort of accumulation of facts gathered in what type of way, would it take to finally demonstrate to Cordell and those of her “everything-is-about-race” philosophical ilk that there is no systemic racial bias in enforcement at SJPD?

    Cordell was wrong on one point. There was one case of racial bias involving the SJPD that was sustained. It was Cordell’s racial bias against cops who are “policing while white”.

    • JSR, I believe Cordell actually claimed no sustained bias complaint in the entire history of SJPD. Fascinating claim and speaks wonders about SJPD’s record retention policy and her research skills. Of course the concept of bias is relatively recent – a fact Cordell conveniently omitted.

      But why stop there? Cordell could have factually claimed that no bias claim has been sustained since the universe was formed. Proof that something is terribly wrong and a cover-up afoot.

      Just be grateful that she’s no longer employed here and no longer on the bench.

  5. I wonder why the police didn’t stop and search the first suspicious white person with a purple back pack they found too, just to avoid profiling charges?

  6. Blah blah blah white…blah blah blah blah police…. blah blah blah blah blah blah blah profiling… blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah racist…

    …another J-Wad original in the Rodney Foo, Joe Rodriguez, Sean -sold out to the establishment- Webby genre… brought to you by Josh and Dan From SJI and the Metro newsgroup.

  7. Looks like SJPD is commenting on articles again. Let the hate spew fellas. Any criticism of the police force is met with an attempt to redirect the thrust of the argument. There’s enough smoke out there around the police force to show something clearly is foul in Denmark, maybe we should try to find that out and fix it (just a thought).

    • Jean,

      While, as with any group of human beings, there might be an occasional instance (or thought in the ether) of it, the preponderance of the evidence clearly establishes that there is no credible evidence of systemic racial bias in enforcement at the SJPD. When you mentioned there being “smoke” to the contrary, you seem to be forgetting that thick steam sometimes, at first glance, appears to be smoke. While smoke is caused by fire, steam is caused by hot air and the latter seems to constitute the substance of the racial “Chicken Little-ism” and opinions of Cordell, Al Sharpton and now, apparently you too. As well, do you assume, as you mentioned, that anyone whose opinion is supportive of the police marks them as a member of SJPD or law enforcement? I detect a certain “occupational bigotry” in your contention.

    • Jean I smell a foul odor of the 18th floor of the Ivory Tower emanating from your person….

  8. — “On Wednesday, prosecutors charged a white Cincinnati policeman with murder for fatally shooting Samuel Dubose, an unarmed black man, during a routine traffic stop last week.”

    I just looked at the video and it’s true that the traffic stop was routine — when made. However, it stopped being routine long before the officer fired his service weapon. Why is this distinction important? Well, in this case, it’s because the video clearly shows the officer’s casual and arguably friendly interaction with the driver — even after he was realized the driver was African-American! Not only was the officer’s demeanor not confrontational at the outset, it remained so through a series of the driver’s mumbles and stumbles and evasive answers (indicative of impairment). First he says it’s his car, but then admits it’s not. He’s told the reason for the stop at the outset and clearly understands, but later, when asked a question he didn’t want to answer, again asks the reason for the stop. He can’t produce a driver’s license, says he has one but doesn’t know where it is, gives a vague answer when asked where he lives, and is found to have a bottle of gin at his feet.

    Sound routine to you? I doubt anyone reading this can recognize themselves in the driver’s actions. Long before the driver resisted the officer’s attempts to detain him by struggling, turning the ignition, and putting the car into gear, and long before the officer fired the shot (and why he did it, or if he did it intentionally, is not made clear by the video) the driver had demonstrated that there was nothing at all routine about him.

    As for Dubose being unarmed, I’m impressed to discover that Ms. Wadsworth could determine that from the perspective of the officer’s body camera, because the officer sure couldn’t, nor could I nor could any other objective observer (I will discount the possibility that Ms. Wadsworth would, in describing the actions an officer took in a chaotic moment, hold him accountable for critically important things he could not have known).

    Were I to emulate Ms. Wadsworth style (one that’s become the journalistic standard) I would’ve reported the Lockerbie air tragedy thusly, “Hundreds die as Pan Am 747 explodes after routine take-off,” so as to misleadingly link the tragedy that occurred over Scotland due to a bomb to the plane’s uneventful departure in Frankfurt. And from this I would write-off the tragedy as just another controversial case of EOLO, exploding on lift-off.

    • Mr. Breeze,

      One does not need a website to “survive police encounters” as you phrased it. Here’s how. Obey the Law. Cooperate if stopped. Make a complaint if you were treated unfairly. Go to court if you committed no crime. Take the racial chip off your shoulder and realize that persons of color sometimes commit traffic violations too.

    • Mr. Smokey,

      Yours is a simple question to answer.

      Go out at night and follow a car, staying a safe distance, 1 car length for every 10 mph of speed that you are traveling. From that distance, from behind that vehicle, in that lighting, imagine (for sake of illustration only) that you just observed a moving or mechanical violation involving that vehicle. Now, quickly, before you do anything else, tell me what race that driver is. Now, take those same conditions, i.e., bad lighting, speed, distance, add some rain, fatigue after 4 hours sleep and your second 12 hour overtime shift in a row that week and again, tell me what race that driver is before you decide to make the stop. Repeat the experiment 10 times and calculate the correct percentage of “profiling” race guessing. If you did not know for sure what race the person was before you hypothetically stopped them, and you guessed wrong, and that driver was black or Hispanic, you have just “racial profiled”. I play this game with my kids on long trips. Even during the day, from 5-10 car lengths back, it is very difficult to tell the race of a driver. If the individual is mixed race, it’s even more difficult. Try it. See if you too can “racial profile”.

      Here’s another “profiling” game. Suppose you are a cop and looking for someone who is DUI or in possession of drugs. You see 2 cars stopped side by side. Both have tail lights out and it’s at night. One is driven by Lindsay Lohan and one is driven by Oprah. Who would you stop? Clearly, the “high probability” stop is (although white “profiled”) Lindsey Lohan, due to her well known substance abuse and DUI problems.

      Now; Same scenario. This time, it’s Charlie Sheen (white) driving one car, and Will Smith (African-American) driving the other. Clearly, poor ol’ Charlie is going to get pulled over because he is much more likely to be stoned or in possession of drugs than Will.

      Last one. This is the toughest one because both are African-American. One driver is Shaq and the other is Snoop-dog. Remember, both have tail lights out but you’re looking for DUI or dope. Time’s up. You stop Snoop-dog because he’s always bragging about, and has a reputation for dope, he’s dressed like a gangster, he’s blasting gangsta-rap out of his car’s mega-speakers, and the smoke wafting out of the car interior smells like burnt weed!!! It’s not about race!!!

      If you are a dog-catcher and are trying to stop a loose dog from running around the neighborhood and biting little kids, what dog would you try to catch first; a large pit bull or a toy-poodle? To an experienced cop, it is just that simple.

  9. J.S.

    I agree, profiling is not only necessary, it’s part of human nature. Everyone does it, all the time. And even if a cop follows a car from a distance, the profiling begins as soon as the driver’s race is determined. You can’t get around it.

    The usual Islamic crybabies started complaining loudly about being profiled at airports, which in post-2000 America predictably resulted in Swedish nuns getting frisked. Complaints about ‘profiling’ are just another way to attack a system that’s worked pretty well up to now.

    The thing is, profiling works, and it works well. El-Al airlines has never been hijacked because the Israelis make use of profiling. They have it down to a science. And a Mexican-American police officer once told me he can spot a newly arrived illegal a mile away, because “they walk different.”

    I am all for profiling. Race is only a part of it, and not even a major part. In different ways, lawbreakers “walk different”. They won’t listen to Chris Rock; they will keep doing what has worked before, until they’re caught. The best way to catch them is by profiling their behavior.

  10. So why didn’t the police pull over some white guys?

    Lot’s of eloquent writing, but you have all missed the key figure in the story, the police are looking for a suspicious black man with a purple back pack.

    As bad as the officers other observations and reaction might have been, he correctly identified a black man.
    The suspect is a black man……………What other race guy might he have been looking for?

    I’m not sure what time frame this happened in, or location of Mr Stephens relative to Mr Purple Back Pack, but those possibility’s must have been a consideration Officer Keller.

    Given the number as of late white cops shooting black man and black men shooting white cops I can also see both party’s involved being very nervous about their encounter.

    Race and profiling is certainly a factor in this story, but it’s not for the reason of racialism.

    By the way I have been stopped twice by over the years by cops with drawn guns, although I hadn’t done anything wrong, I was the suspicious white male they were looking for. That’s a lot stressful, and it happens to white guys to.
    I was just out doing my job at and not a crime.
    We both lived!

  11. Empty Gun,

    Anyone with sufficient understanding of how the word profiling first came into the police lexicon will likely balk at having it used to describe something else. Profiling was born two decades ago when police officers put together their collective experience and assembled an accurate profile of drug smugglers operating along the interstate between Florida and the big cities to the north. It was not about race, instead, what they realized was that smugglers were typically men of a certain age, traveling alone, in rented cars, driving long distances, with burner phones but little or no luggage, and frequently speeding. This resulted in officers targeting speeding cars of a certain profile and using additional criteria to justify further investigation. This highly successful strategy was challenged by the ACLU who argued that the disproportion in the races of those arrested was proof of racism. After repeated losses in the courtroom the issue was handed over to the media jerks and race peddlers for political exploitation.

    (Note: When an official with New Jersey State Police accurately reported that the type of drugs being smuggled was typically indicative of the race of the smuggler [e.g. powdered cocaine = white males] he was fired by the governor.)

    That you wish to define any usage of race by police as racial profiling is your prerogative, but if one were to follow suit regarding an officer’s consideration of age, height, weight, hair color, facial hair, scars, tattoos, piercings, etc. when trying to locate a described suspect, that would amount to a whole lot of profiling. Looking for a suspect who happens to be black is no different from looking for a suspect who happens to limp or one who happens to be bleeding. The accusation of racial profiling against police officers has been used to justify the destruction of careers, unfair prosecutions, and even deadly assaults. I think most cops would prefer to let the term, and the gigantic political fraud behind it, fade into the sunset.

    • I have have no problem with profiling being used in the correct way. Other wise everyone is the suspect and that’s a wast of time. Blind justice is just that, blind and stupid to.

  12. When having an encounter with law enforcement, things will go much better if you COOPERATE. It’s a high-stress and potentially high-stakes situation for the cops. (Just look at what happened a couple days ago with the guy on light rail.) Just help them do their job. Once you are cleared, you can go your way. Don’t mouth off to the officer. If you’re smoking and he/she asks you to put out your smoke, DO IT, even if you’re in your own car. Be respectful. If you are really treated poorly (like they raid your house by mistake when they really wanted the house next door) THEN you can seek redress later, but in the heat of the moment, just do what they say and be respectful.
    There are a few bad cops out there, and those ones need to feel the full brunt of the law (like the one in the southeast who shot the man running away and then tried to frame him) but the vast majority of them are there to protect and serve us and they put their lives on the line to keep our city safe (or as safe as it can be with the short-staffed department we have now).