Charles Belk was “innocently walking” in Beverly Hills on August 22 when he was detained for six hours by police after being mistaken for a bank robbery suspect, he told TheWrap.
“The Ferguson and New York situations all resonated in my mind,” the 51-year-old freelance television producer said, referring to the deaths of unarmed African-Americans Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner, who died after a white police officer put him in a chokehold in Staten Island. “I did not want to give them any reason to question my interest in cooperating.”
Belk, whose credits include “The Greatest Song” and “Douglass U,” posted on his Facebook page that he was “innocently walking by myself” from a restaurant to his car shortly after 5 p.m. on Friday when “my freedom was taken from me by the Beverly Hills Police Department.”
The incident happened near Wilshire and La Cienega Boulevards, according to Belk, who said he was en route to check the time on his parking meter. Belk, who also works as a Hollywood publicist to supplement his independent producing income, said hours earlier, he had been handling celebrity talent at an Emmy Awards gifting suite, and had been invited to a VIP Emmys pre-party that evening. But he never made it to the event because he was hauled off to jail.
“An officer on a motorcycle pulled up next to me and asked me to come over to him,” Belk explained. “He asked to see my identification and asked me to sit on the curb.” According to Belk, five or six more officers arrived a few minutes later.
“The first officer said, ‘you match the description.'” But Belk claims the officer wouldn’t tell him what that description was. Belk says a second officer then told him to stand up and spread his legs. The officer frisked him, put handcuffs on him and told him to sit back down.
According to Belk, none of the officers would explain why he was being detained. He claims he didn’t get an explanation until a police lieutenant arrived on the scene.
The lieutenant told him there had been an armed robbery at a nearby Citibank and Belk fit the description of the robber. “Same color shirt, same color pants,” Belk said the officer revealed, adding that the suspect was a “tall, bald headed, black male.”
A few minutes later, Belk says the male friend he had been dining with pulled up across the street after noticing all of the police activity. Belk, who also does work with the NAACP Hollywood Bureau, yelled at his friend to “call Robin [Robin Lola Harrison of the NAACP], put money in my meter and snap a picture.” (The image of Belk sitting on the curb has now gone viral).
Belk was then taken to jail. “I was booked, fingerprinted, given a blanket, a sheet, toothpaste and put in a cell.” He claims more indignities followed. “They took my belt, my shoes, my wallet … the whole incident kind of rattled me,” Belk said. He also claims police refused to let him make a phone call.
Still, the NAACP enlisted civil rights attorney Jaaye Person-Lynn, who went to the Beverly Hills police station and got Belk out.
The police department admitted Monday that Belk’s detention was a case of mistaken identity. “The Beverly Hills Police Department deeply regrets the inconvenience to Mr. Belk and has reached out to him to express those regrets and further explain the circumstances,” police said in a statement obtained by TheWrap. “However, based on witness accounts, and his location close to the bank, officers properly detained and arrested him based on the totality of the circumstances known at the time of the field investigation.”
The suspect that Belk was mistaken for remains at large. But his alleged female accomplice has been taken into custody. Police say 47-year-old Brianna Clemons Kloutse a.k.a. the “Purse Packing Bandit,” is responsible for nine bank robberies and two attempted bank robberies in Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
As for Belk, he continues to question the police officers’ conduct.
“Why did it take them six hours to review the videotape [bank surveillance tape]?” Belk asked, adding, “They never even read me my rights.”
Belk admits he has since received a phone message from the police department. He didn’t call them back, and instead passed the message on to his lawyer.
When asked why he decided to go public with his ordeal, Belk said, “I want to serve as a voice for Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin and all the other victims. I want to tell my story.”
Tim Kenneally contributed to this story
A previous version of this story stated that Belk was identified in a line-up. However, police say he was identified by eyewitnesses out in the field.