The Black owners of a business in Tiburon have settled a racial profiling claim with the town for $150,000 and the establishment of a police advisory council.
The settlement was announced Tuesday outside of Yema, the downtown Tiburon clothing boutique where the incident occurred. Married co-owners Yema Khalif and Hawi Awash addressed a crowd of residents, located and media, with their attorneys David C. Anderson and Charles Bonner.
“We are not begging. We are demanding,” Khalif said. “We’re going to speak out. We’re going to be vocal and we are going to show how people deserve to be treated.”
The settlement stemmed from an interaction between police officers and Khalif at about 1 am on Aug. 21, 2020. Khalif, Awash and their friend were inside the store, located at 10 Main St. in Tiburon, when Tiburon Police Officer Isaac Madfes approached and questioned them.
The officer was later joined by a supervisor, Tiburon police Sgt. Michael Blasi, and Officer Jeremy Clark of the Belvedere Police Department. Khalif argued with the police over whether the people inside the store needed to prove their right to be there.
The tense standoff, which was captured on video, ended when a neighbor said, “That’s his store.” The officers left. Blasi later resigned. Then police chief Michael Cronin also stepped down that year, a move to retirement he said was long planned.
A copy of the incident report was requested by the newspaper under the California Public Records Act. The request was denied and the report declares exemption from disclosure because it was a record of an investigatory file, Town Clerk Lea Stefani said.
The couple previously filed a $2 million claim against the town. They said they avoided filing a federal civil rights lawsuit because the town agreed to negotiate a settlement.
“They wanted to change,” Anderson said. “That’s where their focus has always been.”
Tiburon police Chief Ryan Monaghan said in an email he was “glad” the town found a resolution. He said the incident provided an opportunity to proactively reevaluate the department’s community relations.
“We have remained dedicated to providing a high level of service to all those who live, work, and visit Tiburon,” he said. “The initiatives outlined in the settlement agreement are things we feel will only enhance the community support we already have and will position us for the future.”
The chief reform is the establishment of a citizen’s advisory panel to the department. The panel will be a community engagement body that will provide recommendations to the police chief, receive citizen complaints and participate in the hiring and interview process for police officers. Khalif and Awash will each serve separate one-year terms on the panel.
Tiburon police officers also will be required to hand out business cards with identification information following “most interactions.”
The cards will include information on how to access the town’s online transparency page at bit.ly/38WuVdD, which will have contact information on how to provide feedback about police interactions, and contact information for the panel and the town’s diversity and inclusion task force. The settlement additionally calls for implementation of a reporting policy related to race/ethnicity, gender and age of searches compliant with the Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015 (RIPA) and increasing the frequency of anti-bias training from every five years to every two years.
Town Manager Greg Chanis said the panel aimed to be formed by the fall.
Khalif said in an interview Tuesday that he and his wife took up the civil rights effort in the name of “humanity.” The incident, which occurred just months after the murder of George Floyd, sparked protests and demands for reform in Tiburon. Activists railed against the community’s lack of diversity and black representation in the government and police.
“I want them to do the right thing. Take accountability,” Khalif said. “Now I want to see that work.”
Awash, who was inside the store during the incident, said she felt scared and profiled. Awash said they hoped the policy changes could be used as a template for other communities seeking police reform and would stop other incidents from occurring in Tiburon.
An undetermined percentage of the payout would be donated to a scholarship fund for youth education in Kenya and Ethiopia, she said, adding 20% of their sales, which includes another storefront in New York, are donated to the education effort.
“We have a platform. Not everybody has that kind of access,” she said. “We had to fight very hard to get here.”
The Tiburon storefront was established two years and two months ago, Khalif said. The business was founded five years ago.
The settlement also touted previous diversity achievements undertaken by the town, including the establishment of the town’s diversity and inclusion task force; participation of the Tiburon Police Department staff on trainings focused on implicit bias; an engagement effort for underrepresented communities called “Living and Growing Together;” increased presence and foot patrols downtown with the goal of community engagement, working with the chamber of commerce to provide technology with business information that identifies store owners and a pilot community liaison policing program.
The Tiburon Town Council held an approximately two-hour closed session on April 13 related to the potential litigation posed by the couple’s claim. Town Manager Benjamin Stock announced the council had voted unanimously to direct the town manager to sign the settlement agreement.
“I am happy we were able to resolve the dispute without resorting to litigation. The changes proposed by Yema and Hawi are very positive, and will help make the town of Tiburon a leader in the areas of diversity, inclusion, and transparency,” said Mayor Jon Welner.
Bonner referred to the settlement as a “historic day.”
“We want the Tiburon police department to be engaged in community policing so it has intricate involvement with the people in the community that they serve,” Bonner said. “It is the ultimate expression of democracy and the democratic process.”
Khalif and his attorneys made multiple references to seeking similar reforms in Belvedere.
“Why wouldn’t they want to be a part of something like this? If Tiburon is doing it, so can they,” Khalif said.