Rialto, CA – The granddaughter of reggae legend Bob Marley has filed notice of a pending lawsuit against the Rialto Police Department, after officers questioned her and three of her friends regarding a report of a possible burglary (videos below).
Donisha Prendergast, 33, alleged that the investigation was racially motivated, despite the fact that the officers were called to the home by a concerned neighbor.
The incident occurred just after 12:30 p.m. on April 30, as Prendergast and her friends were hauling their luggage from the home of Airbnb host Marie Rodriguez, Billboard reported.
One of Rodriguez’s neighbors, who was also a member of the neighborhood watch, noticed the guests removing luggage from the home, but was unaware that Rodriguez had entered into a rental agreement with them.
The concerned woman contacted the police, and said she did not recognize the individuals or their vehicle.
Police said that the woman told them she saw “three black people stealing stuff,” the New York Daily News reported.
It was unclear whether or not the fourth person in the party was also black.
“We were surrounded by 7 cop cars,” one of the women, Kells Fyffe-Marshall, alleged in a Facebook post. “They informed us that there was also a helicopter tracking us. They locked down the neighborhood and had us standing in the street.”
But video clips released by Fyffe-Marshall and Prendergast showed a much different interaction with police.
Although Prendergast became frustrated as the investigation carried on, the conversation between the group and the officers appeared to be quite civil and respectful, and no hovering helicopter could be heard in the background of either video.
The heavily-edited video clips showed Prendergast as she contacted Rodriguez to have her verify that they had permission to be in the residence. The officers also ensured that Rodriguez was the property owner before they allowed the group to go on about their day.
“We get what you’re saying,” Fyffe-Marshall told an officer at one point, as he explained why they had to make sure that everything the group was saying was valid. “We totally understand.”
After the matter concluded, however, Fyffe-Marshall and Prendergast blasted the Rialto officers, and claimed to have been racially profiled.
“Got surrounded by the police for being black in a white neighbourhood,” Prendergast said in an Instagram post. “I’m sad and irritated to see that fear is still the first place police officers go in their pursuit to serve and protect, to the point that protocol supersedes their ability to have discernment.”
“Many have suffered and died in moments like these,” she bemoaned. “That’s a crazy reality check. Give thanks for life, and the ability to stand our ground. We are stronger together. Use your voice collectively.”
In a Facebook post, Fyffe-Marshall complained that a sergeant who arrived at the scene “didn’t know what Airbnb was,” and expressed outrage that he wouldn’t simply accept the group’s unverified explanation.
“He insisted that we were lying about it and said we had to prove it,” Fyffe-Marshall wrote. “We showed them the booking confirmations and phoned the landlord… because they didn’t know what she looked like on the other end to confirm it was her.. they detained us – because they were investigating a felony charge – for 45 minutes while they figured it out.”
She then noted that the officers “admitted” that Rodriguez’s neighbor said she called police because the group “didn’t wave to her.”
“The trauma is real,” Fyffe-Marshall said in the post.
Although the group was technically detained during the investigation, no one was ever placed in handcuffs, and they were allowed to move freely about the scene, Rialto Police Lieutenant Dean Harden told Billboard.
“The officers figured out pretty quickly that this was probably an incident where they were renting a room, but they had to make sure,” Lt. Harden said.
“They’re latching on to this whole racism thing, because they’re black,” Rodriguez told KCBS. “But this is a diverse neighborhood.”
Bodycam footage of the encounter will not be released yet, due to the pending lawsuit, police said.
You can watch clips’ of Rialto police officers’ interaction with Prendergast and her friends in the videos below (scroll down for more videos):