Two Black merchants who allege racial profiling by police in Tiburon and Belvedere are demanding $2 million from the municipalities.
Yema Khalif and Hawi Awash, owners of the Yema clothing shop in Tiburon, filed the claims on Monday. They are seeking $1 million each for alleged emotional distress and potential loss of revenue, as well as punitive damages.
The claims are the latest fallout from an incident on Aug. 21, when police saw people in the store at 1 a.m. and asked for identification. Khalif refused and said he did not have to prove he had the right to be in his own store.
The group of officers included Sgt. Michael Blasi and Officer Isaac Madfes of the Tiburon Police Department and Officer Jeremy Clark of the Belvedere Police Department. The interaction was recorded on Awash’s phone camera and a police officer’s body camera.
The standoff ended when a neighbor said, “That’s his store.” The officers left.
David Anderson, the attorney for the store owners, said the officers’ actions show intentional racial profiling. He alleges other officers and supervisors could be complicit in coordinating the incident.
“Such evidence clearly proves that the conduct was intentional and meant to frighten, intimidate and send a message to Hawi and Yema that they were not welcome in Tiburon,” the claim said.
Anderson said Tiburon has 40 Black residents in a population of about 9,000. He added that Belvedere does not have a single Black resident and both police agencies are composed of White officers.
The officers have denied a racial motive. Alice Fredericks, the mayor of Tiburon at the time, issued an apology after the incident.
Tiburon’s town attorney declined to comment on the claim Monday, and Belvedere’s could not be reached for comment.
Khalif and Awash are in Kenya and will return next week, Anderson said.
“They have their own nonprofit and they are in Africa doing charity work with youth,” he said. “A significant portion of any acceptable compromise offer will be donated to the Kenyan and Ethiopian charities to which my clients already provide 20% of their sales revenue.”
Tiburon has created a diversity committee and launched a police misconduct investigation into the incident. The report has not been completed.
“Like all personnel investigations, there are state employee privacy laws that are implicated,” Town Manager Greg Chanis said. “Once the report is issued, the town will review to determine what, if any, action is necessary as recommended in the report.”
Benjamin Stock, the town attorney, said the investigative report is confidential unless the employing agency and officers waive their confidentiality privilege. Although Blasi resigned, his cooperation in the investigation was voluntary and would also have to consent, Stock said.
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