Police asked a Black couple to prove they owned their store. The fallout sparked a racial reckoning in this quiet Bay Area enclave

On a late summer night two years ago, Tiburon police asked Yema Khalif to prove he owned YEMA, the local clothing store that bears his name.

At the time, Khalif and his wife, Hawi Awash, were the town’s only Black business owners. The fallout from that August 2020 encounter shoved the quiet coastal enclave to the center of a racial justice moment that began just months earlier with George Floyd’s murder. But after initially threatening a $2 million lawsuit in federal court, the couple says they were able to achieve meaningful reforms by staying out of the courtroom and directly engaging with town officials.

On Tuesday, the couple stood in front of their store in Tiburon’s casual but tony downtown to announce those reforms. Changes include police policy and training updates as well as the formation of a Citizen’s Advisory Panel to provide a forum between residents and police; one of the store owners is expected to serve as a member.

The couple also received a $150,000 payment, a portion of which they say will go to a scholarship fund they run through the store.

Khalif and Awash’t reached a settlement with the haven city of Belvedere, which also had an officer at the store that night. David Anderson, one of their attorneys, said Belvedere’s leaders weren’t up for the conversation that those in Tiburon were. A message left with the city manager wasn’t immediately returned Tuesday.

Khalif said he and his wife never wanted to involve the courts.

“For this to happen was very unfortunate and still is unfortunate,” Khalif said during a news conference in front of his store. “We hope (the Tiburon agreement) is going to be something that other cities, other counties can actually copy.”

It all stemmed from an Aug. 21, 2020, incident that was recorded by an officer’s bodyworn camera. Around 1 am, Officer Isaac Madfes approached the couple as they were restocking after closing. Asked what they were doing, Khalif said that he and Awash were “doing our thing.”

“What’s your thing?” asked the officer.

“Is there a problem?” Khalif said.

Madfes continued questioning Khalif, who asked to speak to a supervising officer. Madfes kept pointing out how late it was, that it stood out to him to see people there.

“What stands out to you — three Black people in the store?” Khalif asked.

“I don’t want to argue,” the officer said. “I just want you to tell me why you’re here.”

Sgt. Michael Blasi arrived and suggested Khalif put his key in the door lock to prove he and Awash belonged there. As Khalif began to comply, a neighbor interjected.

“That’s his store!” the white man shouted from his balcony.

The officers thanked the man and left.

Police Chief Michael Cronin retired in September 2020 amid backlash over the incident. Blasi also resigned. Madfes remains an officer in Tiburon, said Town Manager Greg Chanis. Chanis said the chief’s retirement was planned before the incident.

As part of the reforms announced Tuesday, officers are expected to begin carrying business cards with information about how to raise concerns over interactions. The Police Department has started a pilot program where community liaisons help residents with any police concerns or needs. The agency also increased the frequency of bias training from every five years to every two.

“Aug. 21, 2020, was extremely traumatic,” Awash said Tuesday. “I’m happy that Tiburon has taken accountability and has made real substantial policy changes.”

Tiburon Mayor Jon Welner said he was pleased to avoid litigation in resolving the situation.

“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,” Welner said in joint news release with Khalif and Awash.

Charles Bonner, another of the couple’s attorneys, said the agreement shows that such cases “can be resolved at the peace table without going to war.”

“Tiburon has shown us a template, a blueprint,” he said.

Joshua Sharpe is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: joshua.sharpe@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @joshuawsharpe

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