Black California Man Awarded $60K Settlement Following Arrest for Refusing to Give His Name During Police Traffic Stop

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A California man who claimed he was wrongfully arrested after refusing to give officers his name during a traffic stop has reached a $60,000 settlement with the city of Bakersfield, NBC News reported.

Robert Mitchell, who filmed his March 2017 arrest, and the American Civil Liberties Union District of Southern California sued the city last year, accusing the Bakersfield Police Department of making an “unconstitutional arrest.” The city agreed to a settlement earlier this month.

Bakersfield Police Department
Robert Mitchell, 25, sued Bakersfield Police of conducting an “unconstitutional arrest” after he was detained for refusing to answer questions or give his name during a traffic stop. (Jaromir Chalabala / EyeEm/ Getty Images)

Mitchell, 25, and his friends — all of whom are African-Americans — were leaving a convenience store on March 17, 2017 when the vehicle they were riding in was stopped by police. Mitchell pulled out his cell phone to record as officers began asking questions and demanded to see their IDs.

The Bakersfield native invoked the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, however, and refused to give the cops his name or answer their questions. The Fourth Amendment protects against unlawful search and seizure, while the Fifth Amendment protects against self-incrimination and unlawful prosecution.

“We’re pulled over on this lovely day,” Mitchell says as the camera rolls.

When officers ask the passengers for identification, he responds: “I’m right here, I don’t give names,” explaining that he doesn’t have to identify himself unless he’s suspected of a crime.

“‘The law states that you have to give your name,” one of the officers tells him. “Whenever a law enforcement officer stops a vehicle, they can identify everyone in the car.”

“It doesn’t,” Mitchell says, still refusing to provide his name.

The footage then shows Mitchell getting out of the car and resting his cellphone on the roof before being detained by police for allegedly “hindering an investigation.” The California man told NBC News he asserted his rights because “I’ve had past incidents where I’ve been arrested and it was unlawful and I didn’t know my rights.”

He said the officers continued questioning him and his friends but “couldn’t articulate” their reasons for the stop.

“They didn’t even ask the driver or tell us why they pulled us over or anything and that concerned me right away,” Mitchell added.

According to the ACLU’s complaint, officers informed the group they were being pulled over for “trivial traffic violations” — specifically an air freshener dangling from the rear view mirror. The Daily Mail explained that multiple states have laws against air fresheners, fuzzy dice and other car ornaments hanging from the front mirror, however, police in California are allowed to enforce the law at their own discretion.

Police placed Mitchell in the back of a squad car and carted him off to jail, where he remained for 12 hours. It’s unclear if his friends were arrested as well.

The ACLU explained that only the driver is required to show license and registration to an officer if he or she is pulled over — not the passengers. The organization also pointed out that police can’t extend a traffic stop for further questioning unless there’s reasonable suspicion a crime has been committed. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that passengers in car do not have to identify themselves even if the initial traffic stop was for a legal minor traffic violation.

The group ultimately dropped its complaint after the city agreed to a $60,000 settlement.

“You have to respect the law and follow up and stand up for your rights,’ Mitchell said of the incident. “If you just let things go on and if you see something going on in the community that’s wrong that officers are doing, you should seek help.”

Watch more in the video below.

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