Kimberly Blough 6:28 p.m., March 9
La Mesa Police Department sued for searching DMV database for African-American suspects
Complaint against the City and its police department was filed in federal court
Detectives from the La Mesa Police Department are accused of searching the DMV database and collecting driver's license photos of African-American males as a way to locate suspects. A lawsuit filed in U.S District Court on Monday alleges that detectives falsely arrested a man for committing two robberies with little or no evidence other than his driver's license photograph matched the suspect's description.
La Mesa resident, Robert Titus Jr., was arrested for the robberies of two Albertson's grocery stores in May and July of 2011.
In the first incident employees spotted an African-American man leaving the store carrying two bottles of wine. Two months later, employees at a different store saw what detectives believed was the same man stealing a package of hamburger buns and a bottle of vodka. On each occasion the suspect was wearing red, leading detectives to believe that the robberies were gang-related.
According to the complaint, Detectives scoured through the DMV database to locate a suspect.
"It was the custom, practice and policy of the La Mesa Police Department to obtain photographs of black males living in the La Mesa area and make them suspects in criminal investigations even though they are not gang members or suspected of any criminal activity."
The complaint goes on to say that Titus Jr. was not a member of any local gang and has a congenital heart condition which "makes the consumption of alcohol a potentially fatal activity."
Titus Jr. seeks punitive damages for conduct considered to be "malicious, oppressive or in reckless disregard" of his constitutional rights. The alleged racial profiling, states the complaint, justifies "the award of exemplary damages against Defendants in an amount according to proof at the time of trial in order to deter defendants from engaging in similar conduct and to make an example of them by way of monetary punishment."
A call to the attorney was not returned in time for publication.