Days after actor Ving Rhames revealed police pointed a gun at him in his own home after a neighbor called 9-1-1 to report “large black man” breaking in, the Santa Monica Police Department found itself defending its response. Lt. Saul Rodriguez said the July 29, 2016 incident inspired the “Meet Your Neighbors” program, which encourages residents to get to know each other.
On Friday, the “Mission: Impossible” star told Sirius XM radio host Clay Cane he was alone in his house in the NOMA neighborhood when he heard noises outside.
“I get up and open the door and there’s a red dot pointed at my face from a 9 mm,” Rhames said. “And they say ‘put up your hands.’”
Rhames followed directions, slowly opening his screen door and then placing both hands in the air. When he walked outside, one of the responding officers recognized him – not as an actor – but as a parent at the Brentwood School.
The previously unreported incident happened less than a year after another racially-tinged burglary response by the SMPD. In the Nov. 2015 incident, 19 officers responded to an African American woman’s apartment. In that case, the resident had called a locksmith to let her in and a neighbor called 9-1-1 to report three people breaking into a unit in her building. The resident, Fay Wells, said she was shocked to have a gun suddenly pointed at her when police responded.
Both incidents happened while a black woman, Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks, oversaw the department. In 2015, Seabrooks defended her officers, saying it should “emphasize the importance of community, particularly in terms of knowing one’s neighbors.” Seabrooks retired in 2017.
In the Rhames case, Lt. Rodriguez said police received calls from at least two neighbors about the break-in. He said one of the women was extremely frightened and ran from her house before calling police.
“You can hear the fear in her voice when she called us,” Lt. Rodriguez said of the dispatch recording from 2016. “We don’t know what we’re looking into so we have to be prepared for the possibility of a violent encounter.”
When asked if this sort of mistaken encounter happens to white residents, Lt. Rodriguez wasn’t sure.
“I don’t know,” Lt. Rodriguez said. “I wouldn’t say it’s common but it does happen when we get calls and then it was nothing.”
Rhames did not file a complaint regarding the incident or publically speak about it until now. In the interview Friday, he wondered if his son had been home instead if the situation would have ended differently.
“What if it was my son and he had a video game remote or something and you thought it was a gun?” Rhames said.