A Black production assistant claims while working for “Grey’s Anatomy” in 2021, he was racially profiled by the Los Angeles Police Department. Now the 31-year-old has filed a lawsuit against the city and individuals in the department for $20 million.
According to lawsuit documents received by Atlanta Black Star, says Ernest Simon Jr. is suing the city of Los Angeles, Police Chief Michel Moore, and other members of the force after he claims officers from the LAPD “initiated an unwarranted, unjustified, and unlawful ‘high risk’ traffic stop at his place of work — with no reasonable suspicion or probable cause,” at his place of employment.
Simon was hired as a driver for the production of “Grey’s Anatomy as an employee of The Walt Disney Company’s General Entertainment Division (‘DGE’).”
His job on March 18, 2021, the day of the incident, “entailed driving crewmembers and talent between the show’s nearby filming location and the Basecamp,” and Simon contends his civil rights were violated while he was earning a day’s wage on the set.
The 31-year-old man’s attorneys, Stephen G. Larson, Jonathan E. Phillips, and A. Alexander Lowder, filed the federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California a year later, almost to the date, on Thursday, March 17.
In addition to racially profiling Simon, the lawsuit alleges the cops made him “lie spread eagle on an asphalt lot, at gunpoint, for over 20 minutes despite being unarmed and completely cooperative.” During this detainment, he says the officers showed an “overwhelming and unjustified show of force,” and a “wanton and reckless disregard” of his constitutional rights.
Other claims within the filing on behalf of Simon include unreasonable search and seizure, assault, arrest without probable cause, excessive force, negligence, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The lawsuit states that on the day in question DGE had rented to utilize for production an entirely fenced-in playground and parking lot located at nearby Gaspar De Portola Middle School in Tarzana, California, which the legal filing calls the base camp.
After dropping some actors off, Simon was driving a van through a four-way intersection leading to the base camp location when two LAPD officers changed their direction to follow him.
The lawsuit submits Simon was not “speeding, did not run through a red light or stop sign. Nor did he did not commit any other traffic offenses that would raise suspicion or warrant a traffic stop.”
Still, officers began following him.
“According to the LAPD, while following Mr. Simon’s black Ford Transit van, the automated license plate reader (“ALPR”) affixed to Doe Officer 1 and Doe Officer 2’s squad car erroneously alerted them that the van’s license plate matched a BMW sedan that had been reported stolen,” the filing details. “On information and belief, Doe Officer 1 and Doe Officer 2 made no efforts to verify the ALPR system’s reading.”
Even after pulling into the work site, an area at the time “being used for a film or television production” and seeing “signs indicating as such, numerous crewmembers, security, and production vehicles, including other black Ford Transit vans identical to the one being driven by Mr. Simon,” the officers ignored the fact Simon was not in a BMW sedan — the car reported stolen.
A security guard hired by Disney on set attempted to verify Simon as an “authorized crew member” to the officers but to no avail. Likewise, the police did not believe another Black co-worker of Simon. It was not until a white co-worker vouched for Simon that the officers relented, his lawyers claim.
“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,” reads the complaint.
“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.”
The 34-page document states that two factors played out in this case: race and training.
It is first noted that the show was being filmed in Tarzana, California, a San Fernando Valley neighborhood within the City of Los Angeles’s borders. It quotes the Los Angeles Times, saying the community has a population of 70.7 percent white and a 3.6 percent African-American. Simon believes the officers were shocked to see a Black man driving in the area, which made them suspect him of criminality.
The second issue Simon’s lawyers lifted was the department’s failure to adopt and implement training suggestions from the California State Auditor, after the office published its audit report entitled, “Automated License Plate Readers: To Better Protect Individuals’ Privacy, Law Enforcement Must Increase Its Safeguards Over the Data It Collects.”
In the report, the state auditor found “Los Angeles is the only one of four agencies … audited that did not have the ALPR policy state law requires.” It also found “Los Angeles was the most lax in its approach to authorizing [ALPR] user accounts,” and that “Los Angeles has not required training before users can access the ALPR system.” The lawyers contend had the training been implemented, Simon might not have been violated.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the “Grey’s Anatomy” show creator Shonda Rhimes is standing with the production assistant. In a statement, she said, “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.”
LAPD has not responded to the lawsuit.