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Melina Abdullah, a prominent Los Angeles activist and co-founder of Black Lives Matter L.A., has sued the city of L.A. and the Los Angeles Police Department over the department's response to a 911 call last year in which a man falsely claimed to be holding people hostage at Abdullah's home.
The August 2020 call, after a summer of contentious protests over police brutality that Abdullah helped organize, led to heavily armed LAPD officers surrounding Abdullah's home until she came outside with her hands in the air while streaming the incident live on Instagram.
Police later determined the call was a "swatting" incident, one in which someone purposely calls in a false emergency in order to draw armed police to a location. Such incidents have been deadly in the past, spurring warnings from the FBI about the dangers they pose to those targeted.
In her lawsuit filed in California Superior Court on Tuesday, Abdullah said she had been terrified that police were going to shoot into her home and injure her children, and that they would shoot her if she walked outside in response to their commands to do so.
The lawsuit alleges the LAPD made no effort to contact Abdullah despite having her contact information, and that their response was designed to intimidate her and her family in "retaliation" for her protest work rather than to determine if the 911 call was legitimate.
The lawsuit says officers allowed Abdullah's security guard, who they didn't know, to pass through a perimeter and enter her home as they staged around it, and allowed two neighbors concerned about Abdullah's safety to go to her side as she walked out to speak with the officers.
The lawsuit alleges those actions showed that police did not actually believe there was an active hostage situation in the home. And it claims the LAPD's actions constituted unlawful seizure, false imprisonment, excessive force, assault and negligence, among other violations of Abdullah's rights.
"This was a clear case of LAPD ... attempting to terrorize us," Abdullah said in an interview with The Times. "They made no attempt to keep me or my children safe, and this was actually an infliction of harm."
Abdullah also called the response "an attempt to put down protest, to target me as someone who's been very visible and vocal in protesting LAPD."
Capt. Stacy Spell, an LAPD spokesman, said the department could not comment on pending litigation. However, department officials have previously defended the actions of the officers at the scene, saying they appeared to have followed protocols.
Abdullah's attorney, Erin Darling, said there was "ample evidence" that the LAPD "knew or should have known that the call was a hoax," and that the department should have policies in place to prevent "swatting" incidents from progressing to the point of traumatizing high-profile individuals — particularly those like Abdullah who are critical of the police.
"Especially for someone familiar with police abuse, she's thinking in that moment — a moment of terror — that, 'Oh my god, they want to kill me and this is their excuse,'" Darling said.
During the incident, the 911 caller said he had taken people at Abdullah's address hostage in order to "send a message" that "BLM is a bunch of retards."
The caller seemed to intentionally goad a large police response to the home, saying he wanted a million dollars within an hour or he was going to start killing hostages.
In her own live broadcast of the events on Instagram, Abdullah said she was deeply concerned for her safety and that of her children.
"I don’t know why they are here," she said at one point. "They have guns pointed at my house. There’s a helicopter overhead. Nobody’s knocked at the door, but apparently they’ve made announcements for people to come out with our hands up. My children are in the house. My children are in the house. I don’t know what this is."
After Abdullah went outside, an officer asked her what her address was, and she told him.
"Are you looking for me?" Abdullah asked. The officer then asked her to walk over to him, and said, "You’re not in trouble."
When Abdullah got to the group of officers, another asked her if she was in danger. She said she was not.
"OK. We got a call to this location that there is a male in there holding you guys hostage, and he wants a million dollars or he’s going to kill you within an hour," the officer said.
“Oh my ... no,” Abdullah replied. No one was physically injured.
Multiple city officials, including members of the City Council, called for an investigation into the incident.
Spell said he could not provide an update Tuesday on the LAPD's investigation into the 911 caller.
Abdullah's lawsuit said she was not aware of any investigation or findings, but "still lives in fear of another similar police incident."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.