A Black activist is suing Beverly Hills, alleging his civil rights were violated during arrests while he led protests in the city following the 2020 in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
James Butler’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges civil rights violations, battery, false imprisonment, unlawful arrest and intentional infliction of emotional arrest. Butler seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages in the suit brought Monday.
A Beverly Hills spokesman said Tuesday that city officials have not seen the lawsuit and declined comment.
“The city of Beverly Hills has a long and well-documented history of racially profiling and discriminatory police practices against African Americans,” according to the suit, which notes a number of prior lawsuits against the city.
Butler is the founder of the Black Future Project, an organization that favors defunding the police and dismantling what he and his followers deem to be structural racism.
In June 2020, after Butler organized a protest in Beverly Hills, the City Council passed an emergency ordinance limiting residential assemblies to no more than 10 people between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m., according to the suit.
In response, Butler and the Black Future Project organized a second protest in the city in late June 2020 with about 100 people who assembled on Santa Monica Boulevard after 9 p.m., and he and about 25 participants were arrested for allegedly being in violation of the emergency ordinance, the suit states.
Butler spoke out publicly regarding the arrests, including what he believed were substandard conditions in the Beverly Hills city jail, the suit states.
The city filed misdemeanor charges against Butler for taking part in the protest, but a judge later dismissed all allegations against him and the other protesters, the suit states.
On July 23, 2020, Butler organized another demonstration that began when he spoke to his fellow protesters before they marched from Beverly Hills High School toward Santa Monica Boulevard, the suit states. The march was peaceful and occurred prior to the 9 p.m. curfew, but Butler was apprehended by multiple officers who handcuffed him, the suit states.
“The BHPD officers violently slammed Butler to the ground and pushed his face into the concrete roadway while placing a knee on the back of Butler’s neck,” the suit alleges.
Butler was then “violently slammed into a patrol car” and the BHPD attempted to justify his arrest by writing fabricated police reports to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in the hope that prosecutors would file felony charges for assault on a peace officer, the suit alleges.
However, after spending multiple hours in custody, Butler was released after the District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute, the suit states.
In 1995, Beverly Hills was sued by a group of Black plaintiffs who alleged that BHPD officers stopped and harassed Black drivers without reasonable suspicion at a disproportionately high rate, the suit notes.
As part of the litigation’s settlement, the city established a Human Relations Commission to deal with issues of racial profiling, according to the suit.