Civil rights attorney files his own suit, alleging illegal search by Oakland police

A high-profile civil rights attorney has filed a federal lawsuit against the Oakland Police Department alleging that officers used unnecessary force and illegally searched his car when they pulled him over while looking for an armed suspect. 

Adante Pointer, an attorney with the John Burris Law Firm, filed the suit Dec. 26, two years after he said he was detained at gunpoint until he was finally released when police realized he was not the suspect they were looking for.

Pointer explained why it took him so long to sue.

“I wrestled with the idea of what to do,” he told KTVU on Thursday. “I am so used to representing people. I was unsure I wanted to be the subject of the news. As I thought about it, thought, I realized the issue is much larger than me. If I couldn't do it myself, how could I ask others to come forward.”

Pointer has represented multiple plaintiffs who have been harmed and killed by police throughout the Bay Area. His Black and Latino clients include the families of Christian Madrigal, who died after behing held at Santa Rita jail; Alex Nieto, who was killed by San Francisco police; Anthony Nunez, who was killed by San Jose police; and Roy Nelson, who died after being in Hayward police custody, to name a few. His lawsuit, alleging that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated, makes indirect reference to all the people he has fought for.

Pointer “was petrified,” the lawyer wrote in his suit, “and feared that he, like many African-American men before him, would not survive this dangerous encounter.”

Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson referred questions about the suit to the city attorney’s office. The city attorney’s office didn’t immediately respond for comment on Thursday.

According to his suit, Pointer was on his way to the grocery store on the day after Christmas about 7 p.m. in 2017, driving in a late model silver Mercedes Benz on International Boulevard in San Leandro. He was complying with all laws, he said, when police shouted at him to pull over. He did. Multiple officers began shouting conflicting orders at him, while pointing guns, the suit states.

“They shouted ‘Don’t you f---ing move,’” Pointer recalled. “But they were also shouting at me to get out of my car.”

He said that guns were pointed at his face and he wasn’t sure how to comply with two sets of orders. He got out of the car and was forced to lay on the ground and crawl backwards, the suit states. He was eventually placed in handcuffs and put in the back of a patrol car. He said he couldn’t really see anything as his face was away from the officers once he was cuffed and that the couldn’t read the names on anyone’s badges.

“It was so surreal and intense,” he said. “If anything, it’s given me even more appreciation for what people in that situation have gone through.”

Pointer said that at first, he wasn’t told why he was being detained. As he sat there, he alleges that police searched the trunk of his car illegally.

The time he was detained “felt like forever,” Pointer said, but he said he really doesn’t know how long it was. He has yet to have been provided body camera video of what occurred.

A high school friend had passed by at the time and took some cell phone video of his detention, realizing only later that it was Adante Pointer who was being held. Dec. 26, 2017

Eventually, Pointer was told that police were looking for a gunman in a silver car who “brandished” an AK-47. Later, a sergeant told Pointer that the gunman had actually fired off a shot earlier that day.

He acknowledged that if police did indeed have a better description of a suspect and car, they should of course contact a suspect.

“But you need more,” Pointer said. “Does that mean you stop every silver car at gunpoint? That's crazy.” He also mentioned that he had a “top of the line” Mercedes with two car seats in the back with a license plate registered to him.  “They could have easily figured out it was me,” he said.

At some point, a sergeant came back to Pointer’s car and told him he was free to go.

A high school friend had passed by at the time and took some cell phone video of his detention, realizing only later that it was Pointer who was being held. She told him later that she recgonized his voice, and heard real fear in it. Pointer said the ordeal was intimidating and humiliating.

Pointer said he also filed an Internal Affairs complaint with police shortly after the encounter. Overall, the police superiors found that the search was lawful and justified, as was his detention. However, there were sustained findings against two officers for failing to document and articulate their search and for not filling out the “stop data” forms, which hold police accountable for the people they detain by race. Still, the names of the officers have still not been made public and whether or not they were disciplined also have not been revealed, even to Pointer. Police records that must be made transparent under the new law, SB 1421, only cover when police have sex or lie on the job, or cause great bodily injury. This situation does not necessarily fall into these three categories. 

To this day, Pointer gets very emotional recounting what happened to him. He believed that any wrong misstep would have gotten him killed. He is seeking unspecified damages and is asking that a judge require the department to better train officers on how to handle “high risk traffic stops.”

“I just wanted to get my life back,” he said. “The whole time that was happening to me, I was wondering, ‘Who is going to tell my story?’”