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Today my niece was stopped & asked intrusive questions by Torrance PD as she walked from her car to her job. Is this legal?

Los Angeles, CA |

My niece is African-American, 24 yrs., college grad, never arrested, 1 ticket in 8 yrs. 1st thing the ofcr said: "I just saw you drive into a residential area. What are you doing here?" She told him that she worked there (pointed to the building behind them). He asked for her ID and if she had ever been arrested; how long had she worked there, did she like her job, for which business in the bldg did she work. She said "Umm this is awkward" in response to the personal questions, but he continued. She answered his questions, he said "have a nice day" and left. She was taken aback and unnerved by the interaction. Unfortunately, Torrance PD has a rep for poor race relations. I would like for her to know her rights should this happen again (which is a distinct possibility). Thank you.

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Attorney answers 4

Posted

Its too bad that your niece felt awkward by the whole interaction. But heres the bottom line: She doesn't have to talk to police if she doesn't want to. She can politely ask if she is under arrest or free to leave. Unfortunately, officers have an intimidating presence so we all feel compelled to speak with them.

Asker

Posted

Thank you for your response. Very sad that this interaction colors her perception of law enforcement.

Posted

Such an interaction would be unnerving for anyone who isn't doing anything but just going about their own business. In any case, while it is not illegal for the police to ask such questions (under the circumstances as you have described them in your post), it is also not illegal for your niece to refuse to answer any intrusive questions (although, such a refusal can look suspicious to the police). If stopped and not cited or not while driving, providing one's name and the information on their drivers license will do (keeping in mind that every situation and the surrounding facts are different).

Ms. Berjis is licensed to practice law in the State of California. The laws of your jurisdiction may differ and thus this answer is for informational and educational purposes only and is not to be considered as legal advice. Since all facts are not addressed in the question, this answer could change depending on other significant and important facts. This answer in no way constitutes an attorney-client relationship.

Asker

Posted

Thank you. I hope the information shared here will empower her ... cautiously.

Posted

To the excellent answers already provided, I would just add that your niece should look into whatever formal complaint procedures the PD has.

This post is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice, nor does it establish an attorney client relationship with Mr. Cassara.

Asker

Posted

Thank you. I will speak to her about filing a complaint.

Posted

Your niece should indeed make a complaint to the internal affairs division of the Pol Dept, or to the watch commander. Very likely the officer will claim that he had info from roll call or the radio about a suspect in the area matching your niece's description, but that can defense can be investigated and verified or contradicted. Many times officers are disciplined for being untruthful about their reasons for stops when the department would not have disciplined them for the stop itself.

I know that you think that this was race-based. My experience tell me that it is just as likely that it was gender -- that he was angling for an opportunity to flirt and exchange numbers. It happens. In either event, it was most likely improper and will likely be corrected by the department if it can be verified.

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Asker

Posted

The gender situation occurred to me, so I asked her (via text) about his demeanor. Her response was "polite yet aggresive, and very skeptical". Her response makes me doubt that this was a poor attempt at flirting. But, not totally out of the question. I will speak to her about filing a complaint as you and Mr. Cassara suggest. Thank you.

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