The Los Angeles City Council adjourned Wednesday in honor of one of the first Black police officers 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.
Stewart was ceremonially reinstated by the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners on Tuesday as part of the Los Angeles Police Department’s efforts to re-evaluate its history.
“He was among the first Black officers to join the LAPD in the year of 1889. Though he served honorably, Officer Stewart was stripped of his career after being charged, tried and later acquitted of assaulting a teenage girl. The LAPD unjustifiably refused to allow him to continue his service,” Councilman Mark Ridley Thomas said during the adjournment.
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, LAPD Chief Michel 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.
“The LAPD is taking steps to correct the record, and the record that should be desperately corrected. As we near the close of African American Heritage month, I believe we both must celebrate the contributions of trailblazing African Americans such as Officer Stewart, as well as acknowledge the perpetuation of unjust systems, the advancement of institutional racism,” Ridley-Thomas said.
Moore, who recommended the ceremonial reinstatement to the L.A. Board of Police Commissioners, appeared during Wednesday’s City Council meeting to speak about Stewart.
“This has been an effort for the last year, year-and-a-half, as we looked at our 150th anniversary. Researchers, historians brought to us the fact that this tragic story, this injustice, what I believe was part of the systemic racism within the Los Angeles Police Department in the early 1900s, that resulted in a man who came to this profession honorably,” Moore said.
“This is an opportunity as we look back, to look forward, and (we) must recognize that as we look today at the challenges of how to ensure equity, fairness, inclusiveness across this agency, across this city in this century that we acknowledge the errors of our past,” he said.
Along with ceremonially reinstating Stewart and allowing him to retire in good standing, Moore requested that the Central Area roll call room be named the Robert William Stewart Roll Call Room.