Two brothers allege that they have been the target of harassment by Hawthorne police officers and claim that officers routinely stop and frequently detain black males.
Vermetrius and Vermius White, who said that they are not gang members and have never been arrested, claim that members of the Hawthorne police force have stopped them and their friends on numerous occasions to ask about their gang affiliation. The two brothers also claim that officers have “patted them down” in their attempts to find drugs.
“The police would drive right up to you saying that they were answering a 911 disturbance call,” alleges Vermetrius.
Vermius, 28, said that the harassment would occur when he used to exercise in the evenings. “Sometimes the cops would approach me and pull me over. They would empty everything out of my pockets and handcuff me. Then they would sit me on the curb while they ran my name through their data base. They would ask, ‘What gang are you from?’ I would tell them that I didn’t gang bang.”
Vermetrius, 19, whose family has since moved to the South Bay, said the targeting from Hawthorne police began in middle school when he was 12. “I would be walking home with a group of friends. The cops would drive up and ask, ‘What’s going on?’ like we were up to no good,” recalls Vermetrius. “Then they started writing down our names and addresses on little white cards. Later, I heard through the grapevine that they had placed our names on a gang list.”
Over the past several years, Vermetrius claims that he has been stopped “more than 20 times” by Hawthorne police.
But it was the latest altercation that left Vermetrius and his family frustrated. On July 16 at 1 a.m., Vermitrius rode his bicycle to the 7-11 store.
“I was coming out of the store with my purchases when this policeman told me to ‘drop the bag and turn around.’ He told me that I must be ‘up to no good’ because I was out at 1 a.m. Before I knew what was happening, this policeman patted me down and handcuffed me then he and his partner placed me in the squad car. I looked around and about two or three other police cars showed up.”
Vermetrius, frustrated that he was being detained, questioned the officer. “I asked him why he was putting me in the squad car. At first, he and his partner didn’t give me an answer.”
Vermetrius said he was then “transferred to three squad cars” during the incident. Noting the frequent transfer, Vermetrius said that one of the officers laughed and commented, “It looks like we’re playing musical chairs.” The teen said he was then driven to the Hawthorne police station.
Once at the station, Vermetrius said the officers conducted a thorough search. “They searched my shoes and socks,” he said. “They told me to take the braids out of my hair, which took about 45 minutes. Then one of the officers searched my hair.”
Then, at the police station, “Again, I asked them why I was being arrested,” said Vermetrius. One of the officers said, ‘I told you to turn around. Have you ever been tazered before?’”
Vermetrius said he was shepherded into a tiny room. “There was a tinted window in the room and I asked the police on the other side why was I being detained. A female cop slid me a piece of paper through the window that stated that I did not have a bicycle license. I did not even know that I needed a bicycle license,” Vermetrius recalled.
“I fell asleep in the room,” said Vermetrius. “Then a lady cop opened the door and she fingerprinted me and took my booking picture. Then they took me to a holding cell which had a small bed and a toilet. Altogether, I was at the police station for 13 hours,” Vermetrius recalled.
“I could not believe that he had been arrested,” said White, who recalled that Vermetrius had no identification because he had been robbed of his wallet weeks earlier.
Frantic about the fate of her son, White phoned the station and asked when her son was being released. “They said, ‘Not yet, we have to do a national search to check his fingerprints.’ I rushed down to the police station at 7 a.m. with Vermetrius’ replacement driver’s license.”
“My sons have never been arrested or convicted, so I couldn’t figure out why they were holding him,” said White, who said that she has been overprotective of her two sons ever since she had lost a third son in a drive-by shooting.
White learned from a bail bondsman that bail for her son was set at $500. She also learned that he had been sentenced to appear in court on Aug. 20. “I’m going to have to contact pre-paid Legal because I need legal advice,” said White, who stated that she is unable to afford a lawyer.
Vermetrius, who claims he was treated rudely by the cops, said that after hours of being detained he was finally let out a “back door” at the police station. “After being detained for 13 hours, I got no apology from the cops.”
After contacting the Hawthorne police department, a watch commander on duty who did not want to be identified responded, “We don’t harass people for no reason and we don’t just go around handcuffing people.” Pausing, he added, “There may be some facts left out of his story. Remember, there are two sides to every story.”
White said that the police failed to treat her son with respect and that he was deprived of his rights as a citizen. “I don’t understand why they didn’t read my son his rights when he was at the 7-11.” White, who reported that her son is currently searching for a job said, “They placed this misdemeanor on my son’s record. I don’t want it there because that means he will not be eligible for certain jobs.”
Vermetrius said that ever since the incident, he has been more apprehensive when he ventures out in public. “If the police are supposed to protect you, why do they harass you?”
“He thinks about this latest arrest a lot,” said his mom. “He told me, ‘Mom, it was so humiliating. They wouldn’t answer my questions.’ “
“I asked the mayor and the members of the Hawthorne city council if they could help me get the misdemeanor removed from Vermetrius’ record. I asked them, Could you please help me?” They all looked shocked after I told them how my son had been treated,” said White. “The mayor said that he could not talk about my son’s case at this time.”