Women sue after cops handcuffed and held them at gunpoint
Two women are suing the Los Angeles Police Department after they say officials mistakenly targeted them during a "terrible and unnecessary" traffic obstruction last year.
Shibani Balsaver and Sheilanee Sen were renting a U-Haul to move from one apartment to another when they were stopped by LA police. Officers who appeared to believe the truck had been stolen handcuffed the women and held them to the ground at gunpoint - the incident was recorded on video.
"It was terrifying," Sen told CBS Los Angeles. "It was probably the greatest fear I've ever had in my life."
Sen, who works in community development, helped film producer Balsaver move into a new apartment in February 2020. They rented a U-Haul truck to transport Balsaver's belongings from Hollywood to Los Feliz - about a five-minute drive away.
In a blog post that recorded the incident, Balsaver said a police vehicle chased her for most of the journey between her old and new apartments, but she thought little about it and was confused as it followed her to her new block.
The women said at least 10 officers arrived with guns drawn - and they could hear a helicopter overhead. Describing the panic she felt as more patrol cars arrived, Balsaver said no one came to the truck's window to explain what happened when a handful of police cars arrived at the scene.
Shibani Balsaver (right) lies on the ground while her friend Sheilanee Sen (left) follows the instructions of the police. / Photo credit: Shibani Balsaver
The women say the police ordered them to leave the vehicle with their hands behind their heads. They say officers then hit them on the ground and they couldn't hear commands properly because of the loud helicopter.
Sens's friend Roger arrived at the apartment before the women and filmed the interaction after being told by police to "step back".
"I am grateful that this does not go unnoticed, but I can only think that I will die alone in front of the camera," wrote Balsaver.
Describing the weapon aimed at her, Balsaver wrote, "This is a weapon that requires a long body strap to hold it in. This is a weapon that shouldn't be intended for anyone, especially Shona and me . "
"I can feel one knee pressing firmly into my back. Another is pressing my head down," she continued. "They grab my right hand, twist my arm behind me and put a cuff around my hand. I lift my left and they do the same."
The women said they were told why they were run over only after they were handcuffed. Balsaver informed an officer that there was a receipt in her pocket for the truck she had rented earlier that morning.
Shibani Balsaver said she thought she would die lying on the street in front of her new apartment. / Photo credit: Shibani Balsaver
Balsaver said after proving her innocence with the receipt, officers joked and teased her about the incident, telling her to "ask for free U-Haul services for a year."
Balsaver said the LAPD had told her officers had not yet been trained to distinguish between stolen and recovered vehicles in the department's "new" four-month-old system. U-Haul reported the vehicle as recovered a few weeks before the incident.
Balsaver and Sen's attorney Brian Olney alleges the officers used "high risk procedures" during a non-high risk traffic obstruction that involved an alleged nonviolent property crime.
"The courts have made it very clear, but the LAPD refuses to listen," he said. "They know what the law is, they vowed to keep it, but they made a deliberate decision to break it."
LAPD and U-Haul did not immediately respond to CBS News' request.
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