Attorney Feared for His Life During Traffic Stop. Now He's Suing Oakland

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Oakland civil rights attorney Adante Pointer says officers violated his civil rights when they drew their guns, commanded him to crawl backward across the ground and illegally searched his vehicle in a Dec. 26, 2017 traffic stop. (Courtesy Adante Pointer)

Two years to the day after a traffic stop during which he says he feared for his life, an Oakland civil rights attorney filed a lawsuit against the city.

On the day after Christmas in 2017, at around 7 p.m., Adante Pointer said he was driving in a silver Mercedes-Benz down International Boulevard in San Leandro after visiting a client.

Pointer, a lawyer who works in the office of civil rights attorney John Burris, said he was trying to decide if he should pick up some food for his two kids at home when he noticed flashing lights in his rearview mirror.

At first, he assumed the quickly approaching Oakland police SUV was rushing to an emergency, so Pointer quickly pulled over to let it pass. Instead, officers pulled up right behind him and, according to Pointer's complaint, got out of the car and began shouting at him with their weapons drawn.

"He started yelling at me, intensely loud and direct commands, 'Get the f- out the car! Get the f- out the car!' and he had his gun pointed out,” Pointer said. The complaint does not identify the officers involved.

As one police officer was shouting at him to get out of the vehicle, Pointer said another was simultaneously yelling at him not to move and to lift his hands up.

With different sets of conflicting commands, Pointer wasn't sure who he should listen to and was terrified he might do the wrong thing.

“I know far too well, being a civil rights attorney and representing victims of police abuse over 15 years, that drivers have been shot for a lot less — the slightest movement,” Pointer said. “So I was petrified. I didn’t want to give them any excuse or justification to kill me."

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Eventually, Pointer negotiated his way out of the vehicle. He identified himself as an attorney and asked the officers what was going on.

They didn't answer, and instead told him to lie face-down on the ground and crawl backwards until they told him to stop — about 15 feet.

The officers then handcuffed Pointer and put him in the back of a police vehicle while they proceeded to search his car. But they didn't find anything.

A still from a bystander's video shows Oakland police officers searching Adante Pointer's car on Dec. 26, 2017.
A still from a bystander's video shows Oakland police officers searching Adante Pointer's car on Dec. 26, 2017. (Courtesy Lee Housekeeper)

Officers eventually told Pointer that earlier that day, in Oakland, they got a call about someone brandishing an AK-47 out of the window of a silver car.

“And I’m like, a silver car? Is that all? Is that all it takes to get treated like this?” Pointer said. “I mean, I know that they’re not pulling over every silver car.”

Officers removed Pointer's handcuffs and let him go.

Shortly after the incident, Pointer filed a claim with the Oakland Citizen's Police Review Board. The board found that the officers had performed an illegal search of the vehicle and improperly filled out data forms on the incident, but did not find that they used excessive force or unlawfully detained him.

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Pointer's Dec. 26, 2019, lawsuit against the City of Oakland alleges officers violated his civil rights — a position he normally takes on for his clients.

"What actually compelled me to file the lawsuit is not so much because it's personal to me, although it is upsetting and troubling, and I think it was unfair and unconstitutional. But it's the idea that I know that this happens and many people are just suffering in silence because they don't have the platform," Pointer explained.

Pointer filed his lawsuit just a week before the state released a comprehensive new report finding major racial disparities in police stops involving black people in California.

Data on the racial disparity of Oakland police stops wasn't included in the scope of the statewide report — but Oakland began collecting state-required stop data in 2019, and must report its numbers to the state by April.

Neither the Oakland Police Department nor the City Attorney's Office responded to a request for comment.