Sheriff’s Deputy Threatens to Shoot L.A. Rapper for Sitting in His Parked Car
11:51 AM PST on January 4, 2023
While sitting in his car in a strip mall parking lot near 149th and Crenshaw Boulevard just after sunset on New Year's Eve, 34-year-old rapper Feezy Lebron was approached by two deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD).
According to Feezy, deputies Justin Sabatine* and Jacob Ruiz interrupted the livestream he was doing by yanking open his door, grabbing his arm, pointing their guns at him, and threatening to shoot him in the chest, all without explaining why they were in his face in the first place.
He had seen them moving in his direction, he says. But because he was in the private parking lot of a friend's business with his car turned off, it still caught him by surprise to look up from his phone and find them at his window.
The audio posted to his Instagram/TikTok captures the shock in his voice and the aggression with which he is threatened from the moment deputies first engage him [unfortunately our website doesn't embed IG/TikTok well so a tweet with the audio is embedded instead, below].
"Take off in this car and I'm gonna shoot you," Sabatine warns. As Feezy opens his mouth in confusion, the deputy doubles down: "I'm gonna make it super easy on you: if you put this car in drive, you're getting one right to the chest."
Feezy's car is still turned off - he's not going anywhere. But the deputies sound determined to establish their authority by terrifying him into silence.
“I don't care if you got bullshit on you, but guess what, bro, now you got to deal with it,” Sabatine continues. “But if you pull some bullshit, you're going to take one to the chest."
There's no way Feezy can win. The deputy is accusing him of preparing to drive off (he was not), of having contraband (he had none), and of being noncompliant (but not telling him what he needs to comply with). And Feezy is sure that "if I meet this guy's tone, I end up, you know, dead."
Heart pounding, he tries to help the deputies reassess their approach to him. "So you're gonna shoot me right now, bro?" he asks. "For what?"
"Absolutely. Absolutely," affirms Sabatine. "If you don't listen, you're done. You understand me?"
Feezy is still processing. "You gonna shoot me for sitting - for sitting in a car?"
The deputy again opts for escalation. "You gonna comply or no?"
"Comply [with] what?" Feezy asks.
"If you move your hands from right there, you're in trouble," says Sabatine.
"So you gonna shoot me?? I'm sitting in the damn car, bro," Feezy insists. "I'm sitting in the damn car."
The deputy again threatens him, saying that if he moves his hands, he's "done."
"So am I under arrest or what, bro?" Feezy asks. "You've got guns on me..."
Sabatine is thoroughly annoyed now. "You are most definitely one thousand fifty percent detained," he says. "If you do anything other than what you're doing right now, then you're going to have some major problems."
The audio cuts out here. But it was just the start of what Feezy says was a lengthy detention in which they tore apart his car searching for anything that would justify the engagement.
There was nothing for them to find - "I have my license. I have my registration. I have my insurance. I have everything I need to have. I wasn't sitting there smoking weed...I didn't have any of that going on," he says.
But knowing he was in the clear didn’t stop his mind from spinning. He says he just tried to focus on staying calm and doing what he could to defuse the situation.
"He was already escalated," Feezy says of Sabatine. "I'm hearing his voice and it's like he's got so much rage - almost like roid rage - so I just want to not escalate it. But at the same time, I do want to understand why this is happening. As you can see in the video, though, he really couldn't give me an answer [about the justification for the stop]."
Finally, after rifling through his all of his things, Feezy says the deputies spotted a fix-it ticket he had gotten for a missing front license plate. They gave him another ticket for the missing plate and let him go.
Feezy estimates he was detained for at least an hour.
This wasn’t the first time he’d had an encounter like this with law enforcement.
"It happens all the time," Feezy says. The music video for his track “Crenshaw” even features LAPD handcuffing him and searching under the hood of the G-Wagon he had rented for the video shoot that day.
It wasn't a first for the Sheriff's Department, either. Deputies in L.A. are known for leading with aggression by yanking open folks' doors - or attempting to, as they did to another rapper, 1TakeTeezy, back in 2019 - or inserting themselves into folks' vehicles and creating the kind of chaos that can then be used to justify uses of force.
But it was the first time Feezy had “some kind of proof of what takes place” and what so many young men like himself go through every day. More importantly, he says, the recording makes clear that that kind of violent engagement on the part of the deputies “happens for no reason.”
“This is the part we don't see on the news before the people get killed - the Michael Browns, the George Floyds…This is the aggression that [law enforcement] gives off” when they first approach someone, he explains.
It matters because “there’s a false narrative that young Black men are the aggressors when we have police contact," he says. That narrative helps shield officers from accountability but "it’s just not true," he says. "From my video, you can tell [Sabatine] is immediately angry and immediately escalated the situation to life and death.”
Thinking about that narrative got him thinking about how he would have been depicted if he had not survived the encounter.
"I haven't always been perfect," he says of coming up in the Crenshaw area. "But I have kids now, so I changed my life to the point where I'm doing better things, you know - football coaching and I work with the nonprofit Developing Options [doing gang violence reduction work]. We did a Christmas toy drive, you know, but that would not be [the picture] painted if something happened to me. I feel like if I got shot, they'll bring up every negative you ever heard" and likely blame him for his own death to boot.
The fact that it all felt so much bigger than him was what propelled him to the Sheriff's station to file a complaint that same night. That and the fear that his nine-year-old son was “going to have go through this someday,” he says.
Once there, however, he wondered about the wisdom of that decision.
He was buzzed into the lobby around 8 p.m., but help was not forthcoming. Deputies either said they couldn't help or claimed the delay was due to a shift change. He says he was left alone in the empty waiting area for 45 minutes at a time before being told to wait again for help that did not come. He amused himself by periodically recording the hours ticking by on the station desk phone, but he was not amused.
"I felt like they were definitely trying to intimidate me to not file the report," he says. "And they definitely did everything in their power to make it uncomfortable.
Like when Justin Sabatine - the same deputy that had threatened to shoot him - came out to greet him.
Feezy wanted nothing to do with him, and asked to speak to the Watch Commander instead. But Sabatine did not want him to file a complaint. He told Feezy the stop - and, by extension, Feezy having weapons pointed in his face and being snatched out of the car without explanation - was lawful. The missing front plate citation proved it, he said.
"I'm just letting you know your complaint is unfounded," said Sabatine. Then he laughed. It was funny, he told Feezy, because the whole encounter on Crenshaw had been recorded on body worn video "to protect us from people like you."
Sabatine then disappeared into the back with other station deputies, leaving Feezy alone in the lobby again (below).
"I figured that's what happens with a lot of Black guys," Feezy says of his experience at the station. "They make it impossible us to file a complaint because they want us to leave." He had wanted to leave, too - it was New Year's Eve, he was stressed, and he was exhausted. "But I told myself I just couldn't [walk away]. This has happened too many times."
Still, "you almost feel like you're doing something wrong in reporting it, you know?" he says. "Because it's so normal" for young men like him. But that normalization is also the real danger, he says, because it desensitizes people to the violence behind these encounters with law enforcement.
And they are violent.
Feezy says he hasn't been sleeping - he's not really even sure how to talk about what he experienced or who to tell. And seeing his son cry when he told him about the incident broke his heart. He didn't want to have to tell the boy about it, but he is also aware of what awaits a Black child growing up on some of the same streets that he did.
Mostly he wants people to listen to the way he is being threatened and reflect on what they're hearing - on how systemic racism manifests in practice and on the trauma it leaves in its wake.
"I know people like me who's going through the same thing every day and they feel like there's nothing they can do about it. But we have to start holding these people accountable," he says. Because "this [aggressive treatment] is what happens right before [someone] ends up dead. This is the part we don't get to see."
*If the name of Deputy Justin Sabatine sounds familiar, it is because he was involved in the shooting that killed Rushdee Anderson, 41, this past September, in South L.A. Details are scarce, but it appears that while responding to a report of a man with a gun, Sabatine and his partner first detained the wrong man in front of Anderson's residence and then shot and killed Anderson after he emerged from the home and picked up a gun that had allegedly been lying on a chair on the porch. The deputies allege Anderson pointed the weapon at them, prompting them to open fire. Body cam footage of the incident has not been released. Many thanks to reporter and photographer Joey Scott for passing the shooting incident report on. Find it here.
This story will continue to be updated. Find me on twitter here: @sahrasulaiman
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