A lawsuit filed in federal court on Wednesday accused the San Jose police department of racially profiling a black family and then holding them at gunpoint in front of their 7-year-old child for no reason.
According to a lawsuit obtained by The San Jose Mercury News, Emmanuel Stephens and his wife, Jasmine Whitley, had just picked up their 7-year-old daughter from school when Officer Alexander Keller began following them.
The lawsuit said that Keller followed the family to their home where he jumped out of his patrol car and drew his weapon on them. Keller allegedly placed Stephens in handcuffs and threatened to send their 14-year-old child to Juvenile Hall if she tried to record the incident with a cell phone.
According to the lawsuit, officers searched the family's vehicle without probable cause. Whitley was cited for a small amount of medical marijuana even though she produced proof of a prescription.
The couple was later told by another officer that police had received calls about "suspicious black man with a purple backpack." The suit, however, asserted that Stephens did not have a purple backpack and that it would have been impossible for Keller to see one inside the car even if he did.
Attorney Paul B. Justi, who is representing the family, pointed out that this case could have turned deadly like so many other recent tragic encounters between police and minorities.
"What happened to my clients happens all the time and is a real problem," Justi explained. "This type of police misconduct only gets attention when someone ends up dead, but this type of non-lethal harassment is much more widespread and also need to be brought to light and stopped."
Earlier this year, the San Jose Police Department was sued by a black man who said he was stopped repeatedly for minor traffic violations because of his skin color.