The Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners voted Tuesday to ceremonially reinstate the first Black officer in Los Angeles, Robert William Stewart, who lost his job in 1900 after being accused of assaulting a teenage girl, an allegation that Stewart was acquitted of and had denied.
His reinstatement was part of the Los Angeles Police Department’s efforts to re-evaluate its history, according to a letter Chief Michel Moore sent to the commission in support of Stewart’s reinstatement.
“Robert William Stewart was born into slavery on March 1, 1850. In 1886, he moved to Los Angeles with his family; and on March 30, 1889, Stewart and Joseph Henry Green were selected to become the first African American officers within the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department,” Moore said.
Stewart worked for the LAPD until 1900, when he was arrested by detectives for allegedly assaulting a 15-year-old girl he met while on patrol. Stewart admitted that he spoke to the girl, but he denied having any physical contact, Moore said.
His first trial ended in a deadlocked jury, and during his second trial, the jury found him not guilty after less than 40 minutes, according to Moore.
However, the LAPD did not rehire Stewart, and he spent the next few decades of his life, until he died in 1931, as a laborer and janitor.
“In light of these circumstances, I am asking that the commissioners join the department in restoring Stewart’s legacy over the course of this Black History Month,” Moore said.
Moore also called for the Central Area roll call room to be named the Robert William Stewart Roll Call Room.
“I recognize that none of these actions can restore in death what was denied Policeman Stewart in life. But I firmly believe that correcting this wrong can serve as one of many steps on the path to true reconciliation and progress,” Moore said.