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City of Bakersfield settles lawsuit with ACLU over allegedly unlawful traffic stop

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In this file photo, a BPD patrol car blocks a road during an investigation.

The city of Bakersfield has agreed to pay $60,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundations of Southern and Northern California on behalf of a man who was arrested in 2017 after he refused to answer questions from the Bakersfield Police Department during a traffic stop.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Bakersfield resident Robert Mitchell, who is black, was the passenger in a vehicle occupied by three other black men when BPD pulled the vehicle over in March 2017. The lawsuit says the police used the pretext that air fresheners were hanging from the vehicle's rear-view mirror, the tires were bald and the car had come to a rest in the turn lane with its wheels touching the dividing line to initiate the traffic stop.

Mitchell filmed the event and initially refused to give his name to the other officers, noting that he was not suspected of a crime, a news release from the ACLU of Southern California said.

In the video, Mitchell says he does not have to give his name to the officers under the Fourth and Fifth Amendment. He repeatedly refuses to answer officers’ questions in the video.

BPD officers eventually ordered Mitchell from the car and handcuffed him before taking him to the Kern County Central Receiving Facility where he was jailed for over 12 hours before being released.

He was never charged with a crime.

“I should never have been arrested for asserting my constitutional rights,” Mitchell said in the release. “I hope that going forward no one in my community will be arrested for exercising their rights.”

As part of the settlement, the city did not have to admit to any liability in the case.

"I think (the settlement) is a good resolution to the city," said City Attorney Ginny Gennaro. "As we do with all cases, we analyze our risk, and after doing so, this was a good one to settle."

She added that the ACLU had their opportunity to take the case to court but chose not to do so.

"At the end of the day, the settlement was pretty clear that there was no admission of liability," Gennaro added.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, alleged Mitchell’s First and Fourth Amendment rights had been violated by the arrest.

Lawyers for the plaintiff said in the lawsuit that the stop was racially discriminatory.

The ACLU said in a news release that it had obtained evidence that revealed BPD failed to adequately train officers on the Fourth Amendment and the rights of individuals they stop.

“The Bakersfield Police Department should immediately change its policies and training to ensure that what happened to Mr. Mitchell will not happen to anyone else,” ACLU SoCal senior staff attorney Adrienna Wong said in a release. “Everyone, no matter their race or neighborhood they live in, has rights to liberty and privacy that police must respect.”

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.

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