A California couple filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the San Jose Police Department, claiming that an officer held their family at gunpoint for no apparent reason, threatening to arrest the couple’s 14-year-old daughter as she dared to record the incident.
According the suit, Emmanuel Stephens and his wife Jasmine Whitley, both African-American, had just picked up their 7-year old daughter from school, when officer Alexander Keller began trailing them.
The couple claims that Keller followed them home and proceeded to jump out his patrol with his firearm raised before forcing Stephens into handcuffs.
The suit alleges that officers searched the car without probable cause, citing Whitley for possession of a small amount of medical marijuana, even after she produced proof of her prescription.
An officer who arrived later on the scene informed the couple that police had received calls about a “suspicious black man with a purple backpack.”
However, according to the suit, Stephens was not even in possession of a purple backpack, not that it was even possible for Keller to see inside the car.
The family is seeking an unspecified amount in monetary damages. For Whitley, the suit is more about raising awareness in the continued pursuit of social justice.
“My goal is to get the police to respect the citizens,” the 30-year old said in an interview with The San Jose Mercury News. “Not everyone who is African-American is a crook or a criminal. There are many productive citizens, and I am one of them.”
According to Raw Story, family attorney Paul B. Justi, noted that this case could have easily proven fatal like so many recent encounters between police and young minorities.
“What happened to my clients happens all the time and is a real problem,” Justi explained. “This type of police misconduct only gets attention when someone ends up dead, but this type of non-lethal harassment is much more widespread and also need to be brought to light and stopped.”
This is not the first time the San Jose Police Department has been slapped with a civil rights lawsuit. Back in May, an African-American man filed suit claiming he was stopped for minor traffic violations three times in five months.
The suit contends that each stop lasted over 30 minutes and on occasion the man was handcuffed while officers searched his car. The searches yielded nothing and he was given a traffic ticket only once. The city has declined to comment on the matter.
With the current social climate as it is, it is imperative that aggressions made against unarmed citizens should be addressed and dealt with in order to prevent further tragedy and escalate the already rising tensions.