Television producer Charles Belk does not have a household name or a famous face but the Beverly Hills Police thought he looked like someone dangerous, so they arrested him while he was checking his parking meter in the tony city’s downtown.
Belk is big, black and bald, just like a man reported to have robbed a bank in the area last Friday. The 51-year-old MBA graduate of Indiana University had been attending a pre-Emmy gathering earlier in the day and had left a restaurant moments before to check his parking meter when a motorcycle officer confronted him. He was cuffed and plunked down on the sidewalk before being whisked off to jail.
According to Belk’s Facebook page, six cop cars converged on his location before the police took him to the station, where he was booked for armed robbery and accessory to robbery. His bail was set at $100,000.
“Within an evening, I was wrongly arrested, locked up, denied a phone call, denied explanation of charges against me, denied ever being read my rights, denied being able to speak to my lawyer for a lengthy time, and denied being told that my car had been impounded. . . . All because I was mis-indentified as the wrong ‘tall, bald head, black male,’ . . . fitting the description.”
The police defended their actions. “Within minutes of the robbery call being broadcast, police detained a subject less than a block away from the robbery who closely matched the clothing and physical characteristics of the male suspect,” a police statement said. “After an eyewitness positively identified the subject in a field show-up, police arrested Charles Belk for suspicion of robbery,” the statement said.
That didn’t explain why he was kept in jail for six hours before being released. Belk was released an hour after being interviewed by the FBI and after his attorney arrived.
The police denied that they had impeded his access to a lawyer but on Monday issued a non-apology apology that said he had been “properly detained” but, “The Beverly Hills Police Department deeply regrets the inconvenience to Mr. Belk and has reached out to him to express those regrets and further explain the circumstances.”
Belk told KPCC why he thought it took so long to verify who he was and why he wasn’t the guy they were looking for. “They had pretty much convinced themselves I was guilty,” he said.
Belk, who is president and chief branding officer of Charles Belk Entertainment, a marketing and consulting agency, wondered why the police didn’t check the available video footage of the perp they were pursuing while he sat handcuffed on the curb for 45 minutes. The man in the video was wearing a strikingly different shirt than Belk, who said he was finally released within minutes of the film review.
In some ways, Belk considered himself lucky. He probably would have been running up the street to check his parking meter if he hadn’t been responding to a text message while he walked. As events of late in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere indicate, that can be considered an aggressive, provocative move—and a fatal mistake—by a big black man.