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African-American Airbnb guests plan to sue over police encounter

May 8, 2018

Three black filmmakers plan to sue a police department in Southern California after being falsely accused of burglary by a neighbor while leaving an Airbnb rental with their luggage.

The three claim that the response by the Rialto Police Department to what they say was a racially motivated 911 call on April 30 — including seven cop cars and a helicopter — was excessive.

The white neighbor of the Airbnb rental owners did not recognize them as they put their suitcases into their car, and called the police thinking they were thieves.

African-American Airbnb guests plan to sue over police encounterAfrican-American Airbnb guests plan to sue over police encounter

The Rialto police received notice of the pending legal action on Monday. The department argues that the officers’ response was polite and appropriate.

“Too many have suffered and died because of ‘misunderstandings,’ ” Donisha Prendergast, one of the Airbnb renters and the granddaughter of Bob Marley, told NBC News. Her posts on social media have now gone viral.

Kells Fyffe-Marshall, another one of the renters, wrote in an Instagram post that she, Prendergast and the third black renter, Komi-Oluwa Olafimihan, were surrounded by seven police cars and told to put up their hands. Police told them that a helicopter was tracking them and an officer accused them of lying about Airbnb, she said.

Fyffe-Marshall said the police told her that the 911 caller thought they were suspicious because the renters did not wave at the caller as she watched them pack the car from her window.

“The trauma is real,” wrote Fyffe-Marshall in the post. “I’ve been angry, frustrated and sad. This is insanity.”

The encounter is the latest example of friction between law enforcement and minorities because of a call to 911. Last month, two black men in Philadelphia were arrested after a Starbucks employee called police because they hadn’t bought anything.

Also in April, two Native American brothers on a tour of Colorado State University were questioned aggressively by police after a parent called to report her unease over their presence. Before that, in Pennsylvania, a white golf club co-owner and his father called police on five black women who they say were playing too slowly.

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