The Los Angeles Police Department is facing a $20 million racial-profiling lawsuit from a Grey’s Anatomy driver after officers used “excessive force” against him in an incident on location last year that played out in front of the crew of the medical drama.
Occurring during a Tarzana, CA location shoot for the Shonda Rhimes-created series in March 2021, the incident involving Ernest Simon Jr., an African-American Disney employee, looks to resemble far too many similar events involving L.A. police.
“March 18, 2021 began as a typical work day for Mr. Simon, who was working as a driver on the production of the popular television show Grey’s Anatomy as an employee of The Walt Disney Company’s General Entertainment Division (“Disney”),” says the suit (read it here), filed Thursday in federal court against the LAPD, top cop Michel Moore, two unnamed officers and the City of Los Angeles. “His ordinary work day, however, took a drastic turn after Mr. Simon—a thirty-one year old African American male—was targeted by LAPD police officers who, without any legal justification, initiated a racially motivated ‘high risk’ traffic stop,” reads the document, which seeks a jury trial.
The attack played out in front of a number of Grey’s crew members at the production’s base camp, with the two officers pulling out their guns and asserting the van Simon was driving was stolen. The filing notes that a production security guard and crew members informed the officers that Simon was a driver on the Grey’s team and the “van had been rented by Disney,” to seemingly no avail. Significantly, the police appeared to ignore other Black crew members’ insistence of Simon’s true status.
“Multiple LAPD police officers then forced Mr. Simon to lie prone on an asphalt lot at gunpoint for over 20 minutes, using an overwhelming and unjustified show of force against Mr. Simon that caused him to legitimately (and understandably) fear that he was going to be shot at his workplace in front of his co-workers for simply being a Black man in the wrong neighborhood,” read the suit from attorneys at Larson LLP.
“The Doe Officer Defendants’ unjustified hostility and mistreatment of Mr. Simon only ended approximately ten minutes later when another co-worker of Mr. Simon, this time a white male, spoke to Doe Officer Defendants and reiterated what the security guard, Mr. Simon, and Mr. Simon’s African American co-worker had previously told them: that the van was rented and operated by Disney and that Mr. Simon was a Disney employee who was authorized to be inside the Basecamp,” the filing says. “Only after listening to Mr. Simon’s white co-worker did Doe Officer Defendants finally release Mr. Simon from custody.”
The police displayed “malice and reckless indifference to Mr. Simon’s rights” with “racial animus and their implicit bias,” the document goes on to say.
Contacted by Deadline, an LAPD spokesperson said “the department cannot comment on pending litigation.”
Grey’s creator Shonda Rhimes and series producer ABC Signature, however, had plenty to say.
“What happened to Mr. Simon was beyond unacceptable,” said Rhimes, the Grey’s and Bridgerton executive producer.
“It was another example of a broken system that puts valuable lives in danger and damages spirits,” she added. “Shondaland stands with Mr. Simon and his family in this complaint.”
The Disney-owned ABC Signature had less brevity, but similar outrage.
“On March 18 of last year, Mr. Simon, a member of our transportation team, was pulled over by Los Angeles police officers while he was working, removed roughly from his vehicle and treated in a manner that was overly aggressive and inappropriate,” the production company said in a statement. “We filed a formal request then with the LAPD for an immediate investigation into this matter and for the appropriate action to be taken promptly. We were disappointed to learn that no action was taken and support Mr. Simon in his complaint.”
In a near constant multimillion-dollar cycle of settling these types of cases with citizens injured, assaulted and even killed, the question will be whether the city that is the home of Hollywood stands behind the Blue Line on this one or steps out in to the light.
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