LOS ANGELES — A black Virginia state judge testified Tuesday in a civil rights lawsuit against Los Angeles police that she felt degraded when officers ordered her out of a car at gunpoint and forced her to the pavement during a traffic stop in 1999.
Judge Alotha C. Willis, a former prosecutor who has been on the bench in Portsmouth, Va., since1995, told a U.S. District Court jury: “I thought it wasn’t real. ’Candid Camera’ flashed through my mind.”
The judge, her husband and the driver of the car claim in the lawsuit that racial profiling and unreasonable use of force were involved in the traffic stop. Attorney Stephen Yagman said they seek unspecified damages for “racially motivated bias.”
All three plaintiffs in the case are black. White, black and Hispanic officers were involved in the traffic stop.
An assistant city attorney said outside court that the officers’ action was reasonable because the car’s license plate did not match the Department of Motor Vehicle record for the 1998 Volvo, and the officers had cause to believe the car might have been stolen. It was later learned that mismatched license plates were mistakenly mailed to the car’s owner by the state DMV.
Willis testified she and her husband were riding in the car driven by friend Cheryl Crayton when they were pulled over by police about 2 p.m. on July 3, 1999. Willis said she saw four officers crouched behind their patrol car doors with guns pointed at her.
Willis’ husband, Wayne Person, director of naval contracts for the Defense Department, testified earlier Tuesday that he believed the officers targeted them because they are African-American.
He testified that he told one officer while being handcuffed: “You all have a problem out here. ... You can’t stand to see three black people riding in a decent car.”
Crayton said she was forced face-down onto hot pavement and she kept asking officers what she had done wrong.
“I was shocked to see these guns,” she testified tearfully. “I just wanted to know what I did.”
Crayton, assistant principal at Carnegie Middle School in suburban Carson, said she felt embarrassed and undignified lying face down on the hot road.
“I was just looking at the people go by. They were looking at me. I just thanked God that none of them were my (school) parents or students.”