What Happened to Justin Palmer in 2015?

What Happened to Justin Palmer in 2015?

What Happened to Justin Palmer in 2015? 1
Justin Palmer, in a photo released by the Santa Monica Police Department

On April 21, 2015, Justin Palmer made his routine visit to the city’s Virginia Avenue Park electric car charging station. The 36-year-old attempted to charge his vehicle to drive his daughter to school the next day, but instead was injured, pepper sprayed, and arrested by Santa Monica Police at 10:56 p.m. for violating a municipal ordinance and resisting arrest.

Palmer arrived at the park at 9:30 p.m., but found all the charging stations occupied. After waiting until 10:30 p.m. for a charger, one finally became available and he moved towards the charging station with his vehicle. Officers then aggressively approached Palmer. 

Before the incident, police had interacted with other people charging their vehicles and given a gentle reminder of the park’s closure. Because it was not 11 p.m. yet (park closure time), Palmer was surprised when he was singled out by police despite there being other people also charging their cars and walking in the park. As stated by Justin Sanders, Palmer’s attorney, Palmer asked police why he was being denied the ability to use the chargers, to which officers replied by demanding his identification.

Palmer was surprised and confused about this aggressive approach from the police because he had not committed any crimes. He responded to the officers by asking them why they needed his identification, and noted that the park hadn’t closed yet. Unfortunately, he did not get to process the situation. Soon after, officers cuffed him, dropped him to the ground, and pepper sprayed him while he was nearly unconscious—claiming that these actions were justified because Palmer refused to leave and resisted arrest by not providing his identification.

Other community members witnessed various segments of the arrest and one bystander, Wendy Zaw, uploaded a video to Facebook and expressed, “This is not something I would like to see happening in our neighborhood. I’m truly disturbed and I’m still shaking today.” According to other eyewitnesses, Palmer landed head first and appeared to be unconscious for a significant amount of time. Palmer’s attorney suggested that there was no justification to pepper spray Palmer at the time.

What Happened to Justin Palmer in 2015?

After reviewing the details of his arrest, the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office would find that the signs at the park were unclear about closure times and Palmer would not be charged. Palmer then filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging excessive force during his arrest. After hearing the case, the Santa Monica branch of the NAACP showed their support by demanding a “fast-track” investigation, stating that “This act of excessive force points towards racial profiling that has become a central concern as other residents that are not African American have said they have never been approached by SMPD for charging their vehicles after 11 p.m. at Virginia Avenue Park.”

On September 2, 2016, the jury in Palmer’s case reached a verdict, awarding him $1.1 million for the police brutality he faced. On September 27, 2016, the Santa Monica City Council chose not to appeal the federal jury’s decision and instead awarded an additional $1 million for Palmer to cover his attorney fees. However, the $2.1 million that was given to Justin Palmer neither erases the trauma he had to endure nor addresses the larger issues that caused the incident.

Palmer expressed that his verdict was only the start to a larger systemic problem, saying, “You would think if you have witnesses that are telling you something is wrong you should be able to look into that and see what we could have done to make this better and it seems like they’re lacking that … I don’t know if I can ever say what’s right or wrong but I know what I felt and what I experienced.”

—Fatima Guadalupe Lopez

Photo source: KTLA News screenshot