Bob Marley’s granddaughter has vowed to sue a southern California police department after she and a group of friends were swarmed by cop cars and a helicopter following their departure from an Airbnb rental.
Donisha Prendergast, one of the reggae legend’s granddaughters, rented an Airbnb in Rialto, California, while attending a music festival in San Bernardino.
“Got surrounded by the police for being black in a white neighbourhood,” the actress, model and poet wrote in the post. “Smh. I’m sad and irritated to see that fear is still the first place police officers go in their pursuit to serve and protect, to the point that protocol supersedes their ability to have discernment.”
The group served the Rialto Police Department with a notice of a pending lawsuit Monday, according to the New York Daily News.
Police said their response was based on a call from a neighbor who reported a group of people she didn’t recognize taking suitcases from the home and loading them into a car.
The host of the Airbnb, Marie Rodriguez, told CBS Los Angeles her neighbor called the police not realizing the home had been rented.
One of Prendergast’s two traveling companions, filmmaker Kells Fyffe-Marshall, posted a video of the incident on Facebook.
In the post, she said they had just checked out when police cars suddenly surrounded them:
“The officers came out of their cars demanding us to put our hands in the air. They informed us that there was also a helicopter tracking us. They locked down the neighborhood and had us standing in the street. Why? A neighbour across the street saw 3 black people packing luggage into their car and assumed we were stealing from the house. She then called the police.”
Fyffe-Marshall said her group tried to joke about the misunderstanding, but things escalated when the officers’ sergeant arrived and said he didn’t know what Airbnb was.
“He insisted that we were lying about it and said we had to prove it,” she wrote. “We showed them the booking confirmations and phoned the landlord... because they didn’t know what she looked like on the other end to confirm it was her.. they detained us ― because they were investigating a felony charge ― for 45 minutes while they figured it out.”
The filmmaker later said the neighbor called the police on them because she and the other members of her group didn’t wave to her.
Rodriguez told CBS Los Angeles that she has tried to apologize to Prendergast. The Airbnb host said her neighbor was just being cautious because there have been some property crimes in the neighborhood.
She also alleged Prendergast’s group was rude and is making the incident all about race.
“They’re latching on to this whole racism thing because they’re black,” Rodriguez said, “but this is a diverse neighborhood.”
The Rialto Police Department released a statement about the incident, saying the officers “followed departmental policies and procedures.”
The statement also emphasized the officers did not use any form of restraints on Prendergast, Fyffe-Marshall or the other person in their group. The department added that the police “actually allowed them to exit their vehicle and assist officers in locating the owner of the unlicensed Airbnb to confirm there had been no crime committed.”
According to Airbnb’s guidelines, the company suggests considering “whether you should notify your neighbors about your plans to host, along with your plan for how to make sure your guests are not disruptive.” It also recommends hosts research the regulations and laws in their city.
This was reportedly Rodriguez’s first time hosting an Airbnb at this residence. She told HuffPost that a business license was not required.
“We were under the impression that to run a business in this city, you have to have a local license,” a police spokesperson told HuffPost.
The police department is declining to release its bodycam footage of the incident, citing pending litigation from Prendergast, who posted videos on the incident on Instagram.
Prendergast’s manager told CBS News that a longer video of the incident will be released Tuesday.
Airbnb officials told the New York Post they have reached out to Prendergast’s group to offer support.
“Based on what we’ve learned and consistent with the various news reports, this incident appears to be an issue involving a neighbor, but the fact that this neighbor was not a member of the Airbnb community doesn’t change the fact that what happened to our guests is unconscionable and a reminder of how far we still have to go as a society,” the company said in a statement.
The statement also said Airbnb is reaching out to the NAACP, National Action Network, Color Of Change and others to “ensure we are doing all we can to protect our community when they travel.”