LOS ANGELES (CN) – A university professor active with the organization Black Lives Matter sued the Los Angeles Police Department, claiming police wrongfully arrested her at a turbulent police oversight meeting in 2018 and later filed false criminal charges against her.
California State University, Los Angeles, professor Melina Abdullah says in her federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday that while attempting to support an activist who was being detained at a Los Angeles Police Commission meeting, police wrongfully targeted her with arrest.
Her attorney Carl Douglas told reporters outside LAPD headquarters Tuesday the city attempted to silence Abdullah and stain her reputation by having officers imprison her and maliciously prosecute her.
“When a police officer lies, it is the greatest threat to society,” said Douglas, of the firm Douglas Hicks. “We are here today to cleanse the LAPD one cop at a time.”
Abdullah is co-founder of Black Lives Matter LA, a grassroots group that works to hold law enforcement accountable and advocates for victims of police shootings and other violence.
The group is a constant presence at weekly gatherings of the five-member commission, which consists of civilian members tasked with oversight of the LAPD.
Abdullah says she arrived at a May 8, 2018, meeting just as commissioner Steve Soboroff ordered attendee Jasmyne Richards removed from the room.
Moments earlier, meeting attendee Sheila Hines-Brim – a relative of Wakiesha Wilson, a woman who was found dead in an LA jail in 2016 – threw an unknown powdery substance at former LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.
In the commotion that followed, commissioners suspended the meeting and Abdullah began filming LAPD officers threatening attendees with arrest. Police also attempted to remove both Hines-Brim and Richards from the room.
As attendees attempted to leave, LAPD detective Jason Curtis yelled out "Get Melina!" and proceeded to arrest Abdullah, according to the lawsuit.
Curtis pressed charges, claiming Abdullah assaulted and battered him as she grabbed his right bicep while he was escorting Hines-Brim out of the meeting.
“In truth and in fact, although several police officers were interviewed who witnessed [Hines-Brim] being escorted out of the hearing room, no one else ever reported Dr. Abdullah grabbing defendant Curtis’ arm as he alleged,” Abdullah says in her lawsuit, in which she also claims Curtis knowingly filed false accusations.
Two months after the incident, the LA City Attorney's Office filed criminal charges against Abdullah, who is chair of Cal State LA’s Pan-African Studies Department and a commissioner with LA County Human Relations Commission.
But a month later, LA Superior Court Judge Songhai D. Maguda-Armstead granted the city’s motion to dismiss all charges against Abdullah.
Abdullah says she was emotionally and physically harmed by the ordeal and that her “reputation as a student of nonviolent, social and political activism” suffered as a result of charges filed against her, according to the complaint.
She told reporters Tuesday she teaches the history of nonviolent movements for justice and that she’s insulted by the accusation she would harm anyone.
“We know that the targeting of black protesting is nothing new,” she said.
In addition to Curtis, the city of LA and Beck are named defendants in the lawsuit.
Spokespersons for the city and the LAPD did not immediately respond to separate requests for comment. The LA City Attorney's Office said it is reviewing the complaint and declined further comment.
Abdullah seeks compensatory and punitive damages on claims of unreasonable search and seizure, false arrest, malicious prosecution and supervisor liability.
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