A driver on the set of Grey's Anatomy was held at gunpoint for 20 minutes by Los Angeles police officers in a racially motivated incident exactly one year ago, according to a federal lawsuit demanding $20 million in damages and a jury trial. Disney employee Ernest Simon Jr. feared "he was going to be shot at his workplace in front of his co-workers for simply being a Black man in the wrong neighborhood," according to the suit filed Thursday in California, per Deadline. It claims officers followed Simon into the production's base camp in a "predominantly white neighborhood" in Tarzana, Calif., and approached him with guns drawn even after a security guard identified their target as an employee in a van rented by Disney, per the Hollywood Reporter.
The officers, who allegedly believed the license plate on the rented Ford van matched a stolen BMW sedan, forced him "to lie prone on an asphalt lot at gunpoint for over 20 minutes," according to the suit. He "lay surrounded by at least eight LAPD officers pointing their guns in his direction," adds lawyer Stephen Larson. The suit claims Simon was only released from custody after a white male reiterated what the officers had already been told by Simon, a Black colleague, and the site security guard. It was a sign of "racial animus and their implicit bias," according to the suit filed against the LAPD, police chief Michel Moore, two unnamed officers, and the city of Los Angeles. The LAPD has declined to comment.
But both series creator and executive producer Shonda Rhimes and Disney-owned producer ABC Signature stand with Simon. The incident was "beyond unacceptable" and "another example of a broken system that puts valuable lives in danger and damages spirits," said Rhimes. ABC Signature said it "filed a formal request then with the LAPD for an immediate investigation into this matter and for the appropriate action to be taken promptly," but "no action was taken." The suit claims "unjustified hostility and mistreatment" and "malice and reckless indifference to Mr. Simon's rights." The Reporter notes the California State Auditor has faulted the LAPD for improper practices in regard to automated license plate readers. (Read more LAPD stories.)