California

Cops Called a Helicopter to Confront Three Black Women Leaving an Airbnb

A neighbor thought they were robbing the place.

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When police in Rialto, California, received a report of three black women carrying luggage out of a suburban home, they responded with a show of force that included several cruisers and a helicopter.

The women were merely checking out of their Airbnb.

Video of the incident posted to social media accounts by one of the women shows a number of police cars surrounding a black SUV. In a Facebook post, Kells Fyffe-Marshall says seven cop cars surrounded the vehicle and shut down the street as she and her friends were trying to leave.

"The officers came out of their cars demanding us to put our hands in the air," Fyffe-Marshall writes. (She does not say whether any guns were drawn.) "They informed us that there was also a helicopter tracking us. They locked down the neighborhood and had us standing in the street."

Why the aggressive response? In the video, one of the police officers can be heard explaining that a neighbor reported "three black people stealing stuff. Like breaking into the house and stealing stuff."

After being told that they were only removing their own luggage from the house, the cop admits, "That's possible, but you never know."

Fyffe-Marshall says it took more than 45 minutes to resolve the misunderstanding, during which time the police accused them of lying and claimed they had never heard of Airbnb before. Even after being presented with booking confirmations and even after talking to the owner of the house on the phone, the police continued to detain the three women for what they said was a "felony charge."

"We have been dealing with different emotions and you want to laugh about this but it's not funny. The trauma is real. I've been angry, fustrated and sad," Fyffe-Marhsall wrote. "This is insanity."

Did race play a role here? Fyffe-Marshall thinks so. She calls the incident "racial profiling" and suggests that a group of white women would not have had the cops called on them in the first place. The evidence suggests that she has a point, though we don't have the benefit of knowing why the neighbor acted as she did, or whether the cops would have more quickly admitted their mistake after confronting a group with skin of a different color.

But whether or not racism was at work, this was a clear case of institutionalized paranoia. The neighbor who called the cops was doing exactly what all those "see something, say something" ads are always reminding us to do: assume the worst about a seemingly innocuous event. Nosy neighbors have been around for as long as human beings have lived in communities, but now they are encouraged to do more than gossip.

Meanwhile, the cops' response—seven cars and a freaking helicopter—shows that a police department ready to go head-to-head with dangerous thieves engaged in a brazen daylight robbery. There was no attempt to ascertain whether the phone call was legitimate, no apparent procedure to have a patrol car check out the scene and call for backup if needed. These police go straight from zero to 100 at the drop of hat. This is the same mentality that has SWAT teams beating down doors to deliver warrants and officers diving out of their cars, guns drawn, to confront a child with a toy. Call in the helicopter, because every possible threat must be treated like the most serious one ever faced. It's easy to imagine how the incident could have spiraled into something more tragic.

It's a bit crazy to suggest that these officers deserve any credit for only detaining three people for 45 minutes and calling in a helicopter, rather than just killing someone. But if this is typical police work in Rialto, that may be where we are.

Update: Marie Rodriguez, the 45-year-old woman who owns the home Fyffe-Marshall was renting via Airbnb, tells Reason there was a fourth person—a Canadian man—staying there last week. As for the police response, Rodriguez says she does not believe it was overly aggressive.

"They were just doing their job," Rodriguez says.

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  1. “The women were merely checking out of their Airbnb.”

    In California, that’s even worse.

    1. That’s why people can’t have affordable housing.

    2. Perfect place to hijack the top comment and place this viral art from Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino; writer, actor, director, comedian, rapper.

      This video is ‘fire’ as the youths would say.

      Social commentary abound, now you my friends can be on the cutting edge, even ask your kids or grand kids if they watched the new ‘bino’ video — teachers are playing this in classes today, I hear.

      There’s a message in there, not sure what it is per say, but I do like Donald Glover.

  2. Cops are only human, and human beings make mistakes. But it take a special kind of human to not back down even in the face of undeniable evidence that they made a mistake and fucked up.

    Being a cop is not having to say you fucked up. It’s become part of their culture.

    p.s. Also, if you’re renting out your place, let you neighbors knows. I know damned well my neighbor would call the cops if they say someone leave my place with luggage. Still, the cops fucked up and should have immediately apologized and left.

    1. I’m going to say “No.”

      Nosy neighbors have been around for as long as human beings have lived in communities, but now they are encouraged to do more than gossip.

      So what are the odds that this nosy neighbor was so un-nosy that they didn’t know their neighbor was renting their place out, versus this nosy neighbor did know, didn’t approve, and SWATted the neighbor?

      1. That’s exactly what happened. The fact that they were black was icing on the cake.

      2. So what are the odds that this nosy neighbor was so un-nosy that they didn’t know their neighbor was renting their place out, versus this nosy neighbor did know, didn’t approve, and SWATted the neighbor?

        50/50? To the point that the nosy neighbor may’ve been 100% on board with Airbnb until ‘those people’ showed up. And, to be clear, they probably would’ve been 100% on board and still called the cops if Kid Rock, Pitbull, and Ke$ha showed up. There’s racism but then there’s also the fact that people of any race, violating local cultural norms, inherently attract attention.

        Again, not saying it warranted the cops’ obnoxious response but people’s attention is selective, if you don’t want to be the victim of unfortunate selective attention, it takes effort.

        1. It also means freedom is bs. Like I’ve heard some people say things like, well, if you don’t want to attract attention, you shouldn’t dress the way the way you do, or walk around at night, or so on.

          The basic sentiment is, well, if you exercise your freedom to dress as you like and do what you want, police will harass you. So you have freedom, provided you don’t make any choices that distinguish you from whatever the local cultural “norms” are.

    2. if you’re renting out your place, let you neighbors know

      That is probably the smart and polite thing to do. Especially if your neighbors know who you are. Seeing several strangers leave a neighbors house carrying a bunch of stuff does sound slightly suspicious to me. Though if the neighbor is concerned, they could also go talk to the people and ask what’s up.

      1. Though if the neighbor is concerned, they could also go talk to the people and ask what’s up.

        Ding, ding, ding. Why is that so hard to do?

    3. Cops are only human, and human beings make mistakes. But it take a special kind of human to not back down even in the face of undeniable evidence that they made a mistake and fucked up.

      Pretty typical for your police average police officer. Once they know they fucked up, they often continue to detain and “ask more questions” long after it’s obvious the stop is bogus. They do this in a way to justify their fuckup.

    4. re: “let you neighbors know.”

      Which neighbors? The nice couple next door who have a spare key and water your plants during vacations? The ones across the street with the kid who’s always in trouble and has been arrested twice? The ones on the other side who have never forgiven you for cutting off some branches that were overhanging onto your property? The ones two doors down who just moved in and you haven’t even met yet? Everyone within a three block radius?

      “Let your neighbors know” sounds nice but it’s not really practical advice in this age when any random paranoid or prankster can call in a report and then watch the free show.

    5. re: “let you neighbors know.”

      Which neighbors? The nice couple next door who have a spare key and water your plants during vacations? The ones across the street with the kid who’s always in trouble and has been arrested twice? The ones on the other side who have never forgiven you for cutting off some branches that were overhanging onto your property? The ones two doors down who just moved in and you haven’t even met yet? Everyone within a three block radius?

      “Let your neighbors know” sounds nice but it’s not really practical advice in this age when any random paranoid or prankster can call in a report and then watch the free show.

  3. Clearly the Rialto PD is overfunded if they can afford to dispatch a fucking helicopter for a suspected burglary.

    Fyffe-Marshall says it took more than 45 minutes to resolve the misunderstanding, during which time the police accused them of lying and claimed they had never heard of Airbnb before.

    What, you expected the cops to actually admit that they made a mistake? All suspects are guilty, period. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be suspects, would they?

    1. And everybody is a suspect: how would a cop know that there’s no warrant out for any particular citizen?

      1. Every time I have asked the police for help after being a victim of a crime, like my apartment being broken into or being robbed at gunpoint, the first thing the cops did was demand identification so they could run me for warrants. When they couldn’t arrest me turned around to go. When I asked them if they were going to do anything they offered to search myself and my home for contraband so they could arrest me. When I clarified that I mean the crime that was committed against me, they laughed. And people wonder why I have nothing but contempt for law enforcement.

        1. Yep, that’s basically every serious encounter with the police. The only people who ‘trust them’ are the people who have never had to interact with them or relatives of the police themselves, it seems to me.

        2. True. I’ve has little use for law enforcement traditionally. In fact, if my hands weren’t tied with assault and battery laws, I would have no need for them at all. So easy to deal with ‘problems’ as I see fit without the cops I’m the way.

        3. EXACTLY! And it started in the early 80’s. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was stalled on the side of the road had the hood up on the car when Barney Fife pulls up and the fun began “License – registration – insurance.” WTH? Next thing you know there are TWO backups on the scene with their fur covered Malinois girlfriend. I was in the Marines for Christ’s sake! Screw those guys.

    2. I’d much rather the police send a helicopter to an attempted burglary (a life threatening crime) than have them waste my money writing speeding tickets (a so-called crime that approximately never causes any harm).

      Brandybuck got it right. If you know your neighbors, let them know you are renting the place out. (If you don’t know the neighbors then they should butt out.) But the police should also admit when they have screwed up.

      1. re: “attempted burglary (a life threatening crime)”

        No. Robbery is a potentially-life threatening crime. Robbery is “taking or trying to take something from someone that has value by utilizing intimidation, force or threat”. In other words, the victim is present.

        Burglary on the other hand, is defined as “the unlawful entry to a structure to commit theft or a felony”. In other words, the victim is not present. Unless they are stealing the secret codes that can remotely turn off your pacemaker, your life is not threatened by a burglary.

        1. A burglary can occur when the home is occupied – indeed, breaking into someone’s home with the intent to rape or kill them is a burglary, though as I understand it, most burglaries are motivated by the desire to steal stuff out of the home. And unlike in England, burglars bent on stealing try to time their home invasions for when the owner isn’t there.

    3. I suspect that most PDs with helicopters deploy them given the smallest pretext. That way, if a citizen writes the newspaper or stands up at a City Council meeting and questions whether the helicopter is really necessary, the police spokesman can cite the impressive number of times that it was used.

      I lived for many years in a neighborhood with lots of student housing, where lots of noisy student parties were thrown. Early in my history there, the typical scenario was: loud party goes on well into the night, disturbing the sleep of the neighbors on either side and the people across the street; annoyed neighbor calls the police to complain; a squad car arrives and a cop walks up to the front door of the party house, informing the party-throwers that they’re being too loud, and that they need to shut the orgy down. Then the police acquired a helicopter. Now, when a noise complaint is called in, the helicopter’s dispatched to circle over the neighborhood, beaming its spotlight down onto the house and its surroundings, while the loudspeaker booms out orders for everyone to go home, in the process awakening everyone within a quarter-mile of the house. It undoubtedly costs a great deal more, too; but it’s a lot more fun and exciting for the police than that boring old business of driving up to the house at 25 mph and then walking up the front walk. And blue lives matter…

  4. I’m curious as to the name of the person who called police.

    My vote goes to Jessica Yogamat.

    1. I just hope they found the real culprits stealing that luggage.

      1. Can I call the cops on black people “stealing luggage” from a nearby brick and mortar hotel, and get the cops to bring in a helicopter over it? Talk about “helicopter moms”, how about helicopter cops?!!?!?

        1. Is it true? That, to celebrate a cop victory over the “luggage thieves” in cases like this, the cops do a little victory jig? Dance in the streets? And it’s called the “copper-chopper, helicopter cop-hop”?

  5. Even after being presented with booking confirmations and even after talking to the owner of the house on the phone, the police continued to detain the three women for what they said was a “felony charge.”

    I’m surprised the cops didn’t rough the women up for embarrassing them. After all, it’s their fault that the cops were wrong.

  6. “But whether or not racism was at work, this was a clear case of institutionalized paranoia. The neighbor who called the cops was doing exactly what all those “see something, say something” ads are always reminding us to do: assume the worst about a seemingly innocuous event.”

    Good thing it was only three black women who were leaving their Airbnb rental!

    Imagine if it had been a white couple with 2 or 3 children of varying ages…The paranoid caller might have alerted the police to a child sex trafficking ring. That would have brought down a SWAT team with flashbang grenades and armored car with battering ram to take down the front wall!

    1. Or of they had a small dog, or a little kitten!

  7. Airbnb is not something taught at police academies. It’s a lot like the 4th Amendment that way.

  8. Were they filming Cops at the time. every time they do all the cops show up to get in the picture.

  9. It’s a damn good thing that CA is the most liberal state in the Union. If an AA was checking out of an AirBnB or a Hispanic looking man was buying a pack of Mentos in any other state, can you imagine the over the top reaction they might get?

    1. If an AA was checking out of an AirBnB or a Hispanic looking man was buying a pack of Mentos in any other state, can you imagine the over the top reaction they might get?

      Also, out in the sticks, you just know the klansmen would be hiding in the neighbors’ bushes waiting to jump out and lynch them. Nevermind that the klansmen would still need a pair of binoculars to see if the renters were black, the local PD has one squad car and no helicopter, and the neighbors themselves wouldn’t approve of klansmen hiding in their bushes, the point is red-state flyover country is despicably racist.

  10. The dog! Dammit, what happened to the dog?

    1. The new nomenclature is “Fur covered Malinois girlfriend” = Police Dog.

  11. “The officers came out of their cars demanding us to put our hands in the air,” Fyffe-Marshall writes. (She does not say whether any guns were drawn.)

    I can pretty much guarantee you they were drawn.

    Did race play a role here? Fyffe-Marshall thinks so. She calls the incident “racial profiling” and suggests that a group of white women would not have had the cops called on them in the first place.

    I agree that race probably was a factor here. We just need to figure out which neighbor is the racist.

  12. I would bet money the neighbor hates Airbnb.

    1. I’d wager that neighbor hates everything that has happened since the mid-60s.

  13. Of course it was racial, it was California. Hasn’t everyone gotten the message? A colorblind society is a racist society. Only by incessantly comparing our social advantages, race, and cultures can we determine who is at fault. This is what Progressivism teaches us!


    ~Most College Kids

  14. “Did race play a role here?”

    Yes.

  15. Maybe I’m a na?ve optimist, but I sense improvement. Two years ago a SWAT team would’ve gunned down all three, shot all nearby barking dogs, and only then turned their cams back on to start working on alibis and plausible stories. Is the different approach because Rialto is spiffy and upscale?

    1. What? They wouldn’t have blown up the house?

  16. Well there you go! This event should help one of the “do somethings” in the State Legislature to introduce some anti-sharing legislation to help keep everyone safe! Oh, and curry favor with the hotel lobbyists.

    1. You actually make a good point. What’s to prevent local owners of motels from looking up airbnbs in their town and making harrassing calls?

  17. Did race play a role here?

    Are we, in any way, put at ease if it didn’t?

    1. If I were a tinfoil-hat sort of person, I’d think that the whole narrative of police being racist was cooked up as a way of blocking relevant systemic reforms and instead focusing political energy on racial strife – without calling into question the danger posed by out-of-control cops to any “civilian” of any race.

      1. I don’t think it was “cooked up: but I do agree the narrative makes into a partisan issue. When many “i’m not racist but” white people here that police oppression is an issue that “only” effects black people, that allows them to perceive victims of it as “the other.” If it were instead viewed as a problem that affects “americans” it might instead engender sympathy amongst said people, as they might think “that could me or my son or daughter or spouse.”

        Unfortunately, some intersectionalists seem to not have so much a problem with police abuse in and of itself as it’s distribution. You can see this in lists of times white people “got off” for things, as if them being shot would have been a better outcome. And of course, white people suffer from police oppression as well, but currently these stories don’t get the same media attention.

        It seems to come from the confused and very bad idea that rights are a finite resource, and that one person’s freedom must come at the expense of another, as if there was a finite amount of police misconduct having more of it affectr white people would mean there was less for black people.

        This general leftwing view, that everything, including rights and liberties, are part of a finite pie that must be evenly distributed, is a terrible view that tends strongly towards authoritarianism.

  18. 2010 The racial makeup of Rialto was 43,592 (44.0%) White (12.6% Non-Hispanic White),[15] 16,236 (16.4%) African American, 1,062 (1.1%) Native American, 2,258 (2.3%) Asian, 361 (0.4%) Pacific Islander, 30,993 (31.3%) from other races, and 4,669 (4.7%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 67,038 persons (67.6%). City Motto ” Bridge to Progress ” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rialto,_California Good job!

  19. “Fyffe-Marshall…calls the incident ‘racial profiling’ and suggests that a group of white women would not have had the cops called on them in the first place.”

    Because…white people are NEVER stopped on suspicion of wrong-doing? Huh? I, a white, guy have been stopped myself and questioned when I have been in the vicinity of a crime. You may feel you were stopped because of your race, but feeling it does not make it so. And the incident certainly does not fit any definition of “profiling” with which I am familiar given that the police were responding to a call from a concerned neighbor, and not arbitrarily stopping people of color on the own volition. As for the length of time it took to clear up the matter, I can sympathize, certainly, but again: nothing to do with race, and much more to do with the workings of bureaucracy.

    1. The neighbor was a bigot. Your comment suggests a bigot-friendly orientation.

    2. I am white and have been stopped over 50 times.

      But yes, it does seem like racial profiling by the neighbor, as the neighbor probably would not have been suspicious of a group of white women packing their things.

      Of course one can’t say for certain, but it seems likely.

      Whether race was a factor in terms of police response is far more uncertain, police do overreact and double down independent of race.

      Race is not the only bias of course, I am likely profiled for other reasons, but bias does factor into when people decide to call the police.

      1. But yes, it does seem like racial profiling by the neighbor, as the neighbor probably would not have been suspicious of a group of white women packing their things.

        If you live in an all-white neighborhood, that’s kind of rational, isn’t it?

  20. Authoritarian, intolerant, easily frightened, cranky, old-timey conservatives can’t take their stale thinking to the grave — so they can be replaced in our electorate, civic debates, and economy by better people — soon enough.

    Until then, we need to work on attracting a better class of people to law enforcement.

    1. Don’t forget those authoritarian, intolerant, easily frightened, cranky, new-agey progs!

      1. True. The uber-progressive town I used to live was full of NIMBYS who would be quick to call the police on anyone they thought “looked suspicious.”

    2. Authoritarian, intolerant, easily frightened, cranky, old-timey guys can’t take their stale thinking to the grave

      Jump off a cliff already.

  21. Rialto is not a low-crime area and also has distinct good/bad sections. A bit much to whine about racism when the race of the neighbor or cops is unknown.

    And 45minutes? Perhaps thats how long it took to get in contact with the home owner. Also not proof of cops “refusing to admit mistakes”. The are better cops-acting-badly stories to highlight, and pinning racism on every less than perfect interaction is classic crying wolf scenario. People arent believing it anymore.

    1. My god are pig cops fat. And a special kind of fat: head fat. That’s not alcoholism alone, that’s a special obsessive diet of frosted pastries and testosterone.

  22. I wouldn’t say the helicopter is necessarily excessive, if the department has one and it happens to be airborne. A helicopter can get there quicker than almost any car could, and get eyes on the vehicle so that the burglars can’t get away by blending into traffic. Dispatch: “Airborne unit, respond to [address], look for a moving black SUV, heading east on [street name].” Absent other information, seven cars is probably overkill.

    But a fake booking confirmation can be created with a few minutes work. A criminal could even put an accomplice’s phone number on it as the homeowner so that a phone call to the ‘homeowner’ backs up the story. A reasonable police investigation could take a while to determine whether the person on the other end of the line is really the homeowner. If it was my neighbor that called the cops, I’d want the cops to make sure they’re actually talking to me.

  23. Too many cops, and not enough crime.

    1. ^This!

  24. Welcome to the Hotel California.

  25. Wasn’t “see something, say something” an Obama era policy?

    1. The first I heard that particular phrase was in ads in NYC, and they were about terrorism, so i would say it was a post 9/11 thing that started under Bush and continued to expand under Obama.

  26. Bad things happen when the government investigates non-crimes.

    Shame Reason only recognizes this principle sometimes.

  27. The phone caller should be sanctioned. No phone calls ever again. Or . . . Waterboarded by Haskel to find out the true motives. (Just trying to match the cops overeach)

  28. So, was the cop response unusually quick, or were the women slow to load up the car?

    And can a woman in snakeskin pants not be up to no good?

  29. Did race play a role here? Fyffe-Marshall thinks so. She calls the incident “racial profiling” and suggests that a group of white women would not have had the cops called on them in the first place.

    Correct. So what? There are no black neighbors on my street, so if I saw three black women coming out of a house carrying stuff, something unusual is going on (it’s unlikely that they are guests because any host would help them carry their luggage). It would be the same if they were three midgets, three white linebackers, or three Albert Einstein impersonators. It would also be the same if three white guys came out of a house in an all black neighborhood carrying stuff. Statistics are not racist.

    1. Pause,that’s a microaggression, they could be defensive tackles, assuming position is racist.

  30. I keep wondering … over the course of a year or so, how often do cops confront people stealing luggage? Seriously, is this a thing? Do burglars often use peoples luggage to cart their stolen goods out in? If not, why isn’t that a GIANT red flag? Even a cursory peek into one of the suitcases could have ended this situation instantly, no?

  31. Body language. Sheesh. Just watch how they were behaving. It’s easy to see whether they’re acting like three burglars doing wholesale burglary with enough loot to split 3 ways, or 3 people on vacation or a business trip. 911 is for life-threatening emergencies.

    That said, an experienced thief once waved at me, and said “hello,” when he saw me watching him taking iron furniture from a house down the street. I nevertheless had enough suspicion to follow his truck and get the license, and call law enforcement (who were uninterested unless they had a report from the homeowner on file). I just figured they’d already had reports from other victims. It wasn’t my own street so I did not have any knowledge about what the property owner might have been expecting. I later confirmed the stuff was stolen, but he never did file a report.

    At any rate, incompetence in catching my suspect is less of a problem than incompetence in catching the ladies in the story above. Don’t call 911! Too much gets lost in a game of telephone between you, the dispatcher, and the cops. Talk to somebody at a desk who knows what bad guys are operating in the area and would welcome a license plate or description or photo. And small town cops are like dogs on the mail carrier: it might be the most exciting call of the day!

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