Lead Story West Edition

Police chief defends officers after black woman’s complaints

SANTA MONICA — Santa Monica’s police chief, a black woman, is defending her officers and a 911 caller after a black executive said she was detained as a burglary suspect in her own apartment because of her race.

Fay Wells wrote in an article published by the Washington Post that she locked herself out of her apartment late one night in September and called a locksmith to get back inside. A neighbor Wells described as white called 911 to report a burglary in progress, triggering a response by at least 16 officers who detained Wells at gunpoint, according to her article.

Wells identified herself in the Post as a vice president of strategy for an unnamed California company. The Santa Monica Police Department corroborated Wells’ basic account in a statement issued after her piece was posted online Nov. 18, and a spokesman said the department was investigating its officers’ response, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Santa Monica police Chief Jacqueline A. Seabrooks says she could see all sides.

“As a black woman born and raised in South-Central Los Angeles, I empathize with Ms. Fay Wells and how the experience made her feel,” Seabrooks said in a statement. “On the other hand, as an experienced law enforcement executive, I understand the Police Department’s response and the need for that response.”

Seabrooks said she could not fault the neighbor for reporting what he believed was a burglary.

“Put yourself in his place,” Seabrooks said in her statement. “Ms. Wells is not wrong to feel as she does. Put yourself in her shoes. And, the Santa Monica Police Department’s response was not wrong. Put yourself in the officers’ shoes.”

Wells wrote that when the police arrived, she was inside her apartment.

“Peering through my blinds, I saw a gun,” she wrote. “A man stood at the bottom of the stairs, pointing it at me. I stepped back and heard: ‘Come outside with your hands up.’ I thought: This man has a gun and will kill me if I don’t come outside.”

After going down the stairs, “I told the officers I didn’t want them in my apartment,” she wrote. “I said they had no right to be there. They entered anyway. One pulled me, hands behind my back, out to the street. The neighbors were watching.”

Wells wrote that the police overreacted because she was black.

She also said she requested the names and badge numbers of the 16 officers who responded to the possible burglary call and was ignored by the officers.

A sergeant at the scene told her he would get the names of all the officers, but never followed through.

Seabrooks, who was chief of police in Inglewood before taking the chief’s position in Santa Monica, said the incident “presents a clear and present opportunity for all facets of our community and this Police Department to continue to work together, to engage in ongoing conversations about the realities and myths of the protective function inherent in policing, and to emphasize the importance of community, particularly in terms of knowing one’s neighbors.”