Montrose, CA -- Renowned private investigator Ken Sheppard parked his black Chevy Tahoe on a street in Montrose, California, on March 3, 2014, to conduct surveillance for a workers’ compensation fraud case, when several Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies took it upon themselves to accost and harass him — for having tinted windows.
No one in the neighborhood called to report a suspicious, out-of-place individual — or for any other reason — yet these overzealous agents of the state pulled up behind Sheppard’s vehicle under that assumption, and approached with weapons drawn.
Fortunately, Sheppard’s occupation meant his vehicle was outfitted with plenty of video recording equipment. Unfortunately, the irrational and obviously terrified officers couldn’t fathom the black man had a wholly legitimate reason to be parked in the largely white neighborhood — even though residents didn’t seem to care.
As journalist Jasmyne Cannick reports, the private investigator’s Tahoe did, indeed, have tinted rear and side windows — as would be necessary to effectively do his job — and was insured for $3 million. By all accounts, it would appear the deputies didn’t bother with even a cursory investigation of Sheppard’s plates before assuming he had no business in Montrose.
Deputy Plunkett, who eventually identifies himself, exited his patrol car with his gun drawn and walked to the driver’s side of the SUV. Sheppard, aware he’d been cased and profiled incorrectly by the feckless officer, rolled down the window and immediately showed both hands to prove he didn’t have a weapon.
In video footage, Sheppard politely, understandably, and immediately requests the deputy holster his weapon — but Plunkett gets in the man’s face, and peers into the vehicle, and in a confrontational matter, says,
“What do you mean, ‘holster my weapon’?”
“Well, you’re pulling your weapon, so I’m telling you holster your weapon, because you’ve got nothing to fear,” Sheppard calmly responds. “My hands are clearly in sight.”
Plunkett seems intent on starting trouble. In fact, were it not for his costume and shiny badge, his actions would be considered blatant and unjustified harassment and intimidation.
“What are you doing?” the deputy asks with contempt in his eyes.
“I’m sitting here in my vehicle, working,” the private investigator replies with amazing restraint.
“You some kind of P.I. or something?” Plunkett retorts.
“Does it appear that I’m doing something illegal?”
“I don’t know,” the deputy says, essentially proving the man’s point.
By this time, it has become obvious from the officer’s face he has no intention of either backing down, listening to reason, or treating Sheppard with decency and respect — despite his having done nothing illegal, and, again, no calls had been made to report suspicious activity in the area.
“Step out for me,” Plunkett says, grabbing Sheppard’s wrist.
Perturbed by the unmitigated lunacy of being accosted by this unreasonable thug in uniform, Sheppard politely and firmly asks the officer to “please remove” his hand and summon his watch commander to the scene.
But his valid and repeated request for the supervisor — made at least eight times — falls on the deaf ears of the irrational Plunkett, who then leans in, asking if anyone else is in the SUV. Yet again, the deputy then needlessly escalates the situation by telling Sheppard he’s being uncooperative — forgetting, of course, that he has yet to provide the man with any reason, much less a valid one, for accosting him, grabbing his arm, or ordering him from the vehicle.
Plunkett’s hand visibly shakes, as Cannick points out, as he continues grasping Sheppard’s wrist — making the fact he refuses to holster his service weapon a potentially life-threatening concern.
Sheppard repeats his requests for Plunkett to remove his hand, holster the weapon, and summon the supervisor numerous times to no avail.
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“I didn’t hear you call for your watch commander,” Sheppard tells the petrified deputy.
“We’ll get to all that … when we’re done with you,” Plunkett says.
At one point during this fruitless exchange, Plunkett requests backup — but not the watch commander — and eventually releases the man’s wrist. Sheppard, using the same hand in full view of the officer, reaches slowly to remove a bluetooth device from his left ear. Even though Plunkett can see precisely what Sheppard is doing — reaching up to his ear, not down into the vehicle where the officer might have perceived the action as grabbing a weapon — the deputy swiftly points his gun at the man’s head.
“Don’t fuckin’ reach, I told you not to,” the terrified deputy says, nervously pointing his gun just inches from Sheppard’s head, even though he never said such a thing. Besides trembling hands, video shows the pulse in Plunkett’s neck pounding.
“Do not be fucking reaching,” he repeats.
Deputy Rodriguez, identified in court documents, arrives on the scene, also with her weapon needlessly drawn. Sergeant Hollis soon joins them, followed by Deputy Hanson — taser at the ready — and Sheppard explains the absurd situation as Plunkett continues nervously pointing the gun, requesting the more senior officer order Plunkett to holster the weapon.
Eventually, Hollis relents and calmly asks the deputy not to aim the firearm at the man’s head.
The sergeant then requests Sheppard exit the vehicle and Rodriguez immediately places cuffs on his wrists, barely giving enough time for him to comply with the order to turn around.
After placing Sheppard in the back of a waiting patrol car, officers proceed to search the SUV — without even the suspicion of the commission of a crime.
But the cops haven’t finished with the innocent man — and what happens next is truly astonishing given he’d done nothing wrong in the first place.
With the Tahoe’s recording devices rolling, these sheriff’s deputies — who apparently had nothing better to do than waste taxpayer money to intimidate and threaten an innocent individual — conspire to fabricate charges.
Cannick cites court documents in the matter, which state:
“During the course of the next several minutes, the deputies on scene conspired to concoct a citable offense against Mr. Sheppard. These law enforcement officials attempted to justify Deputy Plunkett’s actions, ex post facto. Most critically, Deputy Hanson and Deputy Ramirez drafted a citation that was ultimately signed by Deputy Plunkett. Neither Deputy Hanson nor Deputy Ramirez was willing to personally sign the citation, after engaging in a lengthy discussion concerning the contents of said citation. As she was attempting to creatively fashion charges to be brought against Mr. Sheppard within the aforementioned citation, Deputy Hanson stated, ‘please, just let me taser him.’”
Ultimately, Sheppard received citations for tinted windows and missing plates — even though temporary, paper plates were properly posted on the rear of the Tahoe with registration in the windshield as required by law.
Sheppard filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in 2015 over the absurdly unjust incident for, Cannick writes, “violation of his constitutional rights, assault, battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and various other charges.”
Despite the telling video footage — showing all these allegations to be true — a jury last week found in favor of the sheriff’s department.
Sheppard — who, during the encounter, tells Sgt. Hollis he just finished a lawsuit with the same department over similar misconduct — plans to appeal his case.
Harassment, intimidation, entertaining the idea of tasering someone for no conceivable reason, putting a gun to an innocent person’s head, fabricating charges — even when no crime has been committed or suspected — this is what life is like in a police state.