Two California women are suing the LAPD in federal court over a harrowing run-in with the police, during which they say at least 10 officers pulled guns on them and pinned them to the ground after mistaking their U-Haul truck for a stolen vehicle.
The incident took place back in February 2020, but Shibani Balsaver and Sheilanee ‘Shona’ Sen filed the lawsuit in the US District Court for Central California in March of this year.
The 29-page complaint, which was obtained by DailyMail.com on Tuesday, accuses the City of Los Angeles and 14 individual law enforcement officers of excessive force; unreasonable search and seizure; failure to intervene; assault; battery by a peace office; negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
A traffic stop that was captured on video in Los Angeles in February 2020 is not the subject of a federal lawsuit that was filed in March against the LAPD
Sheilanee ‘Shona’ Sen (left) was helping Shibani Balsaver (right) move on February 8, 2020, when police in Los Angeles carried out a ”high risk’ traffic stop, which is usually reserved for armed or uncooperative suspects
‘I thought I was going to get shot,’ Balsaver told CBS Los Angeles this week. ‘I really thought that that was the end.’
Balsaver, who works as a film producer in Los Angeles, published a detailed account of her violent encounter with the police on medium.com a week after the incident.
Balsaver said that on February 8, 2020, Sen was helping her move into her new apartment when the 10-foot U-Haul truck she had rented was pulled over by the police outside her new residence in the Los Feliz neighborhood.
As Balsaver describes in her essay, she and Sen were confused because they did not think they had violated any traffic laws.
‘I look in the side view mirror, our only means of remaining informed,’ she writes. ‘I see two other police cars have pulled up. I tell Shona matter-of-factly that this is serious. We are extremely confused.’
Moments later, even more police vehicles arrived on the scene, and soon Balsaver and her friend found themselves surrounded by no fewer than 10 officers with their guns drawn and pointed at them, including one she dubbed ‘Mr Authority,’ who she said was holding a massive rifle.
Police thought this U-Haul truck has been reported as stolen, even though the rental company said it has been recovered
Shibani Balsaver, an LA film producer, is seen walking toward police with her hands up. She wrote in an essay she feared police would shoot her
Balsaver and her friend were ordered to lie face down on the ground before they were handcuffed
‘This is a gun that requires a long body strap just to hold it,’ she writes. ‘This is a gun that shouldn’t be meant for anyone, certainly not for Shona and me.’
Both women were then ordered to get out of the truck with their hands up and walk toward the middle of the street as a police helicopter roared overhead.
‘I expect a bullet to enter my body, probably in my shoulder. I’m not sure if I’ll die,’ Balsaver recalls thinking at the time. ‘I am sure that my body will go into shock numbing the force of the bullet. It won’t hurt.’
As video recorded by a bystander shows, Balsaver and Sen were forced to kneel and then lie face down on the ground in full view of Balsaver’s new neighbors, one of whom grabbed her cellphone and began recording.
‘I am grateful that this will not go unnoticed, yet all I can I think is I am going to die alone on camera,’ Balsaver writes.
After lying spread-eagle in the middle of the street for several minutes, the two friends were approached by the officers.
Balsaver said she was let go only after she told police she had a receipt from U-Haul in her purse
‘I feel a knee push down hard into my back. Another forces my head down,’ Balsaver recounts. ‘They grab my right hand, twist my arm behind me, and wrap a cuff around my hand. I lift my left and they do the same. I wriggle my body to try to get up. They yank me the rest of the way. I turn to see three large guns pointed in my face.’
Balsaver said that it was not until after she was put in handcuffs and pushed against an SUV that one of the officers told them they were being detained because police thought the U-Haul had been reported stolen.
Balsaver, still standing with her hands restrained, shouted that her receipt from the truck rental company was in her purse on the front seat of the vehicle.
After retrieving the receipt and running Balsaver’s name through the system to make sure there were no outstanding warrants against her, she and her friend were let go without any charges.
The woman said that responding officers who had only minutes ago pointed their guns at her now appeared ‘frazzled’ and joked with her that she should demand a year of free service from U-Haul.
Balsaver said that a sergeant later explained to her that U-Haul reported the stolen vehicle as recovered weeks earlier, but police officer have not been trained to recognize the code indicating that a stolen vehicle has been recovered in their new system, which has been in place since October 2019.
According to the lawsuit, no one at the LAPD ever apologized to Balsaver and Sen for the traffic stop.
The complaint alleges that the LAPD broke the law by conducting a ‘high risk’ traffic stop, which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal previously limited to ‘special circumstances’ where a suspect is uncooperative and posses danger, or in situation where police have information that the suspect is armed.
The City of Los Angeles attorney and lawyers representing the police officers last month filed an answer to Balsaver and Sen’s complaint, denying all the allegations against them and asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit.
Balsaver and Sen are seeking unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees. A hearing in the case is scheduled for May 14.