On August 18, 2019, the owner of Linen Laundry on Bath Street called 9-1-1 to report that a woman named Olivia Lopez had stolen the remote to the laundromat’s TV and would not give it back. An officer was dispatched, there was a struggle, and Lopez’s upper arm was snapped. The breaking sound is audible in the audio recording of the incident.
Internal police records of Lopez’s arrest were released this week to the Santa Barbara Independent under a California Public Records Act request. Amid renewed scrutiny over police use of force tactics, the Independent is reviewing confrontations in which local law enforcement took action against people that resulted in them being seriously injured or killed. The disclosure also illustrates the often-difficult dynamics at play between the police, the homeless community, and Santa Barbara’s business owners.
The laundromat owner made her first 9-1-1 call at around noon that day. “I’ve got a homeless person here who’s taking our TV control,” she said. “She’s not doing laundry, and the police have said whenever this happens, I’m supposed to call them because if we don’t it means, you know, we’re okay with it. So I need someone to help me have her move on.”
The owner describes Lopez as Black and in her mid-thirties. Lopez is Hispanic and 43 years old. The 9-1-1 operator tells the owner, whose identity is redacted from the records, that an officer will be dispatched as soon as possible.
The owner calls 9-1-1 three more times over the next 20 minutes. “I really need somebody here,” she demands.
The dispatchers tell her officers aren’t yet available and to not engage with Lopez until one arrives. “It’s been unusually busy today,” one of the operators says. “We’ve had several emergencies, and the officers are still tied up on those.”
Around 15 minutes later, Officer Kyle Rapp is diverted from his jail transportation detail to respond to the laundromat.
As Rapp arrives and approaches Lopez, she starts to collect her belongings, footage from his body camera shows. He asks her for identification. When she replies in Spanish, Rapp switches to Spanish. Lopez ignores him and heads for the door. Rapp tells her several times that she is not allowed inside the business and that if she returns, she will go to jail. “No puede estar aquí,” he says. “Si esta aquí, ir al carcel.”
Lopez begins to talk and laugh, either with herself or someone on her phone through her earbuds; it’s difficult to tell which. “Her response to my interaction with her was curious and led me to doubt her sobriety and/or mental health issues,” Rapp wrote in his post-incident report.
Rapp follows Lopez out the front door. She starts walking down the sidewalk but then turns around and tries to re-enter the laundromat. Rapp blocks her way and again asks Lopez for her ID. She continues to ignore him. Rapp takes out his department-issued cell phone to photograph her, but then Lopez grabs his arm and tries to wrench the phone out of his hand. The two begin tussling, with Rapp repeatedly telling Lopez that she’s now under arrest and to stop resisting. Lopez starts stomping on Rapp’s foot, and he puts her left arm in a wrist lock behind her back.
“She forcefully fought my control with a tremendous amount of effort for her stature,” Rapp wrote in his report. Lopez is 5′1″ and weighs 170 pounds.
As Rapp leans into Lopez and presses her against the wall of the building, there is a loud “pop.” Lopez screams and begins crying.
Rapp immediately releases Lopez’s arm and maintains a loose grip on the back of her neck as he calls for an ambulance. Lopez stands still and continues to sob. She is transported to Cottage Hospital, where an x-ray reveals her left humerus has sustained a spiral fracture, which occurs when an extreme amount of torque is applied along the axis of a bone. During a subsequent interview with a Spanish-speaking investigating officer at the hospital, Lopez asks if he is “a real policeman” or if they are in “some kind of TV show.” “Many of her statements were nonsensical,” the report says.
Back at the scene, an eyewitness told additional responding officers it didn’t appear to him that Rapp used excessive force as he attempted to arrest Lopez. “I guess he had to do what he had to do, but it just sucks to see that,” the witness said. “When I looked over at her arm, it was in the completely wrong direction.” The witness insisted that Lopez was not creating a disturbance in the laundromat, “She wasn’t bothering anybody,” he said, and the owner’s 9-1-1 calls, which he overheard, were unwarranted.
The owner also defended Rapp. “It was not excessive,” she said on tape. “He was not being rough. He was doing his job and something popped.” She complained of repeated problems with homeless people at her laundromat, including prior interactions with Lopez when she’d steal the remote to watch soccer. “She brought it all on herself,” she said. “You guys don’t need the bad PR.” Rapp later spoke to the owner about how he never intended to hurt Lopez. “We don’t like this,” he said.
Lopez was discharged from the hospital the next day and ordered to appear in court on charges of trespassing, refusing to provide identification, battery on a peace officer, resisting arrest, and vandalism. Rapp’s phone screen protector was damaged during their struggle. Lopez missed her court date, and there is now a warrant out for her arrest.
The Independent will publish these reports on police use-of-force incidents on a rolling basis as the records are made available.
This article was underwritten in part by the Mickey Flacks Journalism Fund for Social Justice, a proud, innovative supporter of local news. To make a contribution go to sbcan.org/journalism_fund.