Individuals accuse police department of alleged racial bias

Toward the end of Tuesday night’s council meeting, two people spoke at public comment describing an incident involving the Claremont Police Department.

Evan Bunch and Miranda Sheffield, who are both African-American, were in a car that was pulled over by Claremont police officer James Summerfield in December. According to Mr. Bunch, Officer Summerfield threatened to arrest Ms. Sheffield and impound Mr. Bunch’s car because the officer “felt [Ms. Sheffield] didn’t have her hard copy driver’s license.”

The law, Mr. Bunch stated, says the officer should have only given her a citation.

“I calculated that for him to escalate, raise his voice and threaten this black group, must have been racist,” he said.

Mr. Bunch made a formal complaint in January, and was told at that time by Claremont Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen that it would take 30 days to complete.

“So something on that dash cam must have scared her, because it’s now the end of March, and this one complaint investigation still hasn’t been handled,” he said. “The question is, where is the complaint? Why is it taking so long?”

He also spoke during the January 10 police commission meeting, but he said his name and comments were not properly recorded in the minutes.

“They got everybody else’s name, but had the audacity to write my public comment out,” he said.

According to those minutes, Mr. Bunch requested to speak during the comment period on another agenda item, which is not permitted. But since he was not present during open public comment, the commission allowed him to speak.

The approved official minutes from the meeting state: “Mr. Bunch shared with the commission about an incident that occurred in December.”

The transcript did not provide detail about the nature of Mr. Bunch’s comments, but continued, “Chief Vander Veen encouraged him to fill out a citizen comment form and responded that the forms are available online, in the police station lobby and various places in the city.”

Ms. Sheffield said she was told the complaint would go before the police commission for review, a process she says she does not trust. 

“How am I to be entrusted that the results that are going to come from this police commission in Claremont are going to be true and not biased towards the Claremont Police Department?” she asked.

Chief Vander Veen, in an email, said Mr. Bunch was the passenger in a car that was pulled over for failure to stop at a stop sign. An internal investigation was initiated after he made the complaint on January 15, she said. She said Mr. Bunch has been kept updated on the status of the investigation throughout its duration. Due to the status of the investigation, she was “unable to provide specific details,” she said.

The chief said she personally notified Mr. Bunch via voicemail on Monday, on a cell phone number Mr. Bunch provided, that the investigation was complete. He has not returned her call, she said. It is unclear whether or not Mr. Bunch received the voicemail before he spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The Police Review Ad Hoc Committee, comprised of members of the police commission, reviewed the complaint on March 21, she said. “Staff has been reaching out to Mr. Bunch to schedule a meeting to discuss the results of the investigation,” Chief Vander Veen said.

Mayor Corey Calaycay told Mr. Bunch at Tuesday’s meeting that the council will work with city staff to find out the status of his claim. City manager Tara Schultz said she received a message from Mr. Bunch on Tuesday morning before the meeting and would look for more information and get back to him.

Mr. Calaycay expressed regret over the city’s delay in responding. “Mr. Bunch, I apologize that this is taking an extended period of time, but we will respond to you and I appreciate that you came out this evening to bring this to our attention,” he said.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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