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A Black production employee for Disney who claims that he was racially profiled and assaulted while working at a shoot for Grey’s Anatomy is suing the city and the Los Angeles Police Department for at least $20 million.
The lawsuit filed Thursday in California federal court by Ernest Simon Jr. alleges officers initiated a racially motivated traffic stop and arrested him without cause despite multiple crewmembers telling them he was an employee of the production. Simon says the officers forced him “to lie prone on an asphalt lot at gunpoint for over 20 minutes, using an overwhelming and unjustified show of force” that caused him to “legitimately (and understandably) fear that he was going to be shot at his workplace in front of his co-workers for simply being a Black man in the wrong neighborhood.”
Norma Eisenman, a representative for the police, said the department cannot comment on pending litigation.
ABC Signature, which produces Grey’s Anatomy, gave this statement to The Hollywood Reporter: “We filed a formal request then with the LAPD for an immediate investigation into this matter and for the appropriate action to be taken promptly. We were disappointed to learn that no action was taken and support Mr. Simon in his complaint.”
Simon’s encounter with LAPD in March of 2021 is one of many incidents involving Black Californians who are stopped by police at a disproportionately higher rate than other racial groups. According to the lawsuit, Simon is a driver for the production of Grey’s Anatomy and is a unionized Disney employee. His job entailed driving crewmembers and talent between the show’s filming location in Tarzana and the production’s base camp.
Simon says he noticed the LAPD vehicle at a four-way stop a short distance from the base camp and it followed him to the site.
“Given that there was no reason to suspect Mr. Simon of committing any crime or traffic violation, the decision to pursue Mr. Simon — based solely on the fact that he was an African American male lawfully driving in the predominantly white neighborhood of Tarzana, California — constitutes racial profiling and discrimination in violation of Mr. Simon’s rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and California law,” writes attorney Stephen Larson in the complaint.
At the entrance of the production site, the officers were told by security that Simon was an employee and that he was driving a company van, the lawsuit says. They entered the area anyway and approached Simon with their guns drawn as he sat in the driver’s seat of the parked van.
“The Doe Officer Defendants continued to treat Mr. Simon in an overly hostile and extraordinarily dangerous manner despite pleas from several [Disney General Entertainment Content] crewmembers that Mr. Simon was an employee, that the van had been rented by DGE, and that Mr. Simon and the van were where they were supposed to be,” writes Larson. “Instead of heeding those pleas, Doe Officer Defendants yelled at the crewmembers to ‘get out of the line of fire,’ which only increased Mr. Simon’s legitimate fear for his life as he lay surrounded by at least eight LAPD officers pointing their guns in his direction.”
Simon argues that his prolonged detention in which he was forced to “lie spread eagle on the asphalt” for roughly 20 minutes, constitutes an arrest without probable cause. His suit against the City of Los Angeles, LAPD Chief of Police Michel Moore and the two unnamed officers alleges unreasonable search and seizure, excessive force and racial profiling, among other claims.
The officers had checked Simon’s license plate and were mistakenly alerted that the van he was driving matched a BMW sedan that had been reported stolen, according to the lawsuit. Jonathan Phillips, representing Simon, says his client was driving a Ford van, “which is very different.”
The LAPD has been criticized for failing to implement proper policies and practices regarding the use of automated license plate readers. In February 2020, the California State Auditor found that “Los Angeles was the most lax in its approach to authorizing ALPR user accounts” and that it doesn’t require training for users to access the system.
The complaint alleges the LAPD “failed to take any meaningful action to either hold those officers accountable or to give Mr. Simon even a semblance of justice” after investigating the incident.
Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, tells THR: “What happened to Mr. Simon was beyond unacceptable. It was another example of a broken system that puts valuable lives in danger and damages spirits. Shondaland stands with Mr. Simon and his family in this complaint.”
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