Innocent until proven Black or Poor

root - Posted on 01 January 2000

The case of Leo Stegman vs.The City of Berkeley’s Economic and Racial Profiling Policies.

by Leo Stegman

In the City of Berkeley, it is a crime to be poor or a person of color. Law enforcement officials in Berkeley treat innocent poor folks and people of color like criminals, by constantly subjecting them to unlawful stops, detentions, and arrests.

In incidents involving warrantless arrests, first a stop, and then a detention precede them. California Courts have ruled that in order for law enforcement officials to justify a stop or detention of an individual against their will, they must have a "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is involved in criminal activity.

The California Supreme Court has defined "reasonable suspicion" by stating " in order to justify an investigative stop or detention the circumstances known or apparent to the officer must include specific and articulable facts causing him to suspect that (1) some activity relating to crime has taken place or is occurring or about to occur, and the person he or she intends to detain is involved in that activity." (In re Tony C. (1978) 21 Cal. 3rd 888, 893, [148 Cal. Rptr. 366, 582 P. 2nd 957]).

In order to arrest an individual, a law enforcement officer must have " probable cause". The California Courts have ruled that "probable cause for an arrest is shown if a man of ordinary caution or prudence would be led to believe and entertain a strong suspicion of the guilt of the accused". (People v. Fischer (1957) 49 Cal 2d. 442, 446, 317 P.2d 967) Many times, de-facto "probable cause" and "reasonable suspicion" amounts to simply one’s skin color or perceived economic status. The City of Berkeley Police Department uses the practices of economic and racial profiling to stop and harass innocent poor people and people of color everyday.

An example of these policies is the "Case of Leo Stegman." Mr. Stegman is a 34 year old, African-American, who is employed by a local non-profit organization that provides employment services to families receiving Calworks. On May 22, 2000, at 7:45am, Mr. Stegman was waiting for the Multi-Agency Service Center to open up to post information on the center’s bulletin board about the free employment services offered by his employer. The Multi-Agency Services Center is daytime drop-in center where homeless and low-income individuals take showers, sign up for voice mail, make phone calls, and receive a host of other services free of charge. Because the center did not open up until 8:00am Mr. Stegman decided to rest on a park bench in Martin Luther King Park which is directly across the street from the center.

After lying on the park bench for about 5 minutes, an Officer from Frederick from the Berkeley Police Department came up to Mr. Stegman and told him that there was no sleeping in the park. Then, the Officer began to ask Mr. Stegman a battery of questions. Mr. Stegman informed the Officer that he was not asleep, and then, asked the officer if he was under arrest. The Officer replied. "No". Then Mr. Stegman informed, the officer that he would be standing upon his 5th Amendment rights and would not be answering any of the officer’s question. The Officer insisted that Mr. Stegman answer his question and produce valid California Identification, or he would be in violation of the California Penal Code 148(a) (1) Willfully Resisting, Delaying, or Obstructing a Peace Officer in the Discharge of Their Official Duty. When Mr. Stegman refused to subject himself to the Officer’s interrogation by merely ignoring the officer’s questions he was arrested, searched and taken to Berkeley City Jail. Upon the officer’s search of Mr. Stegman, he found that Mr. Stegman had valid California identification on his person.

In his police report, the Officer expressed his opinion on how the quality of Martin Luther King Park has gone down because of the presence of homeless people and high school students. He went on to write that he was ordered by his superiors to patrol the park. The case of Leo Stegman is a classic example of the rousting of people of color and poor people in Berkeley by the police department. Throughout his report the Officer stated that Mr. Stegman is "homeless". Yet, his only proof offered on Mr. Stegman’s alleged homelessness were the items of clothing that were in Mr. Stegman’s messenger bag, and that he was resting in an public park area that homeless individuals frequent. Mr. Stegman was not homeless, so even the perception of ones housing status is subject to economic profiling from the Berkeley Police Department.

Berkeley Police department’s stop, detention, and arrest of Mr. Stegman does not come close to the legal standard of " reasonable suspicion" or " probable cause" as set by both the federal and state courts and constitution. There is no state law of local ordinance that bans sleeping in public parks during daytime hours in the City of Berkeley. Therefore, if we believe that the Officer’s false accusation was true, that Mr. Stegman was asleep in the park. The arrest failed woefully by the standard of " reasonable suspicion" to stop or detain Mr. Stegman because he was not engaged in any unlawful of illegal conduct.

Also, in Mr. Stegman’s case the arresting officer lacked "probable cause". The arrest of Mr. Stegman was also illegal and unlawful. In order for an officer to make a lawful arrest without a warrant must have probable cause. The California Court has stated, "a policeman may arrest without a warrant whenever he has probable cause to believe that the person arrested has committed a public offense". (Agar v. Superior Court (1971) 21 Cal. App. 2d. 24,28, 98 Cal. Rptr 148)

Mr. Stegman was arrested for violation of Penal Code 148. An arrest for a violation of California Penal Code section 148 for merely refusing to answer the questions put forth by law enforcement officers is lacking any legal basis. In a decision the United States Supreme Court ruled "law enforcement officers do not violate the Fourth amendment by merely approaching an individual on the street or in another public place, by asking him if he is will to answer some question.... The person approached, however need not answer any question put to him; indeed, he may decline to listen to any questions at all and may go his on his way" (Florida v. Royer (1983) 460 U.S. 497-498 [75 L.Ed2, 235-237, 103 S.Ct.1319). Therefore, it is clearly obvious that Mr. Stegman has a constitutional right to remain silent and ignore the Officer’s questioning, and should not be taken into custody for simply exercising his constitutional rights.

Throughout Berkeley, people of color and poor folks find themselves under constant harassment and intimidation whether they are young punk rockers on Telegraph Avenue, low-income individuals selling their " Street Spirit" newspaper on Shattuck Avenue, African-Americans doing anything in South and West Berkeley. In Leo Stegman’s case, Berkeley Police Department attempted to illegally control and restrict the uses of a public areas by harassing residents of those areas that are perceived to be poor and homeless or people of color. The United States Constitution Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause prohibits discrimination based on class, the United States Civil Rights Act of 1965 prohibits discrimination of individuals because of their race, color, creed, gender, national origin or religious beliefs. However, relics of the Jim Crow and vagrancy laws of the Great Depression are practiced in the so —called progressive City of Berkeley. A city that prides itself on its tolerance and free speech. These practices of ethnic and economic cleansing are associated with New York City and Mayor Rudy Giuliani, not the progressive, tolerant and free love capital of the United States.

Unfortunately, no matter where you live in the U.S., the police are, the police. The practices of racial and economic profiling are nationwide phenomena.

After 24 hours Leo Stegman was cited and released for the Berkeley City. The District Attorney declined to file charges against Leo Stegman and he currently has a compliant pending against Officer Frederick at the Berkeley Police Commission.


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