Tiburon store owners file administrative claims after racial profiling case

Tiburon+Town+Hall%2C+where+Yema+Khalif+and+Hawi+Awash%E2%80%99s+administrative+claim+is+currently+being+processed+by+the+town+of+Tiburon.

Courtesy of the town of Tiburon

Tiburon Town Hall, where Yema Khalif and Hawi Awash’s administrative claim is currently being processed by the town of Tiburon.

By Henry Pratt, Sir Francis Drake High School

Black Tiburon store owners Yema Khalif and Hawi Awash have filed a two million dollar administrative claim against the town of Tiburon and other public entities after a racially charged confrontation outside their clothing boutique shop, Yema,  on Aug. 21, 2020. Khalif and Awash seek compensation for loss of revenue and emotional distress, adding up to one million dollars each.

At approximately 1:00 a.m. on Aug. 21, 2020, Khalif and Awash were restocking merchandise in their store when approached by a Tiburon police officer, Isaac Madfes. The officer inquired as to why Khalif and Awash  were in the store so late at night. Later, Madfes’s supervisor, Sergeant Michael Blasi, appeared on the scene and demanded to know why Khalif and Awash were in the store. Their conversation was recorded on police body camera footage.

According to the press release from Khalif’s attorney, David Anderson;  “With substantial regret and reflection, Hawi Awash and Yema Khalif are filing the required legal claims against the Town of Tiburon and City of Belvedere Police Department, appointed and/or elected officials and three involved police officers as individuals for compensation resulting from a carefully planned and executed assault on their United States and California Constitutional Rights as American Citizens.” 

Yema Khalif’s clothing store in downtown Tiburon where the owners were the target of a confrontation with police on August 21, 2020. (Henry Pratt)

On Jan. 25, 2021, Anderson filed a claim against Tiburon and other public entities, on behalf of Awash and Khalif.

Anderson said that he seeks “punitive damages” against two individual Tiburon Police Officers (Madfes and former Sergeant Michael Blasi). 

“Punitive damages are sought as a means of deterring future racially motivated tactics by the Tiburon Police Department and Belvedere Police Department employees intended to frighten citizens such as the claimants,” Anderson said in his press release.

Tiburon has 45 days from Jan. 25 to accept or reject the claim. If Tiburon rejects the claim,  Anderson has indicated that he intends to file a complaint in the federal district court.

In response to the Aug. 2020 incident, Sergeant Blasi resigned from the Tiburon Police Department (PD) and Tiburon Police Chief Michael Cronin retired.  According to Anderson, Town Manager Greg Chanis began an independent investigation on the incident and stated that he would release some of its findings to Tiburon residents.  Anderson indicated that Chanis later announced that he would not release the information because it involved statutory privacy rights of the involved officers.

Anderson explained that this was the tipping point, and was when Khalif and Awash decided to sue the Town of Tiburon (which was not their first intention).

“My clients did not want to take any legal action against the town in the beginning. Their preference was to rally community support for them and to protest the very clear racially motivated profiling of them as Black Americans, who have been subjected to the events that occured on August 21st,” said Anderson.

Anderson also said that when Sergeant Blasi arrived on scene, he demanded to see some form of identification from the store owners. Anderson explains that this is not only unlawful, but completely unnecessary, because Khalif and Awash were well known throughout the community. 

“There is a 99% certainty that Hawi and Yema were known. It’s inconceivable that (the officers) did not know who they were,” said Anderson.

Yema Khalif’s clothing store in downtown Tiburon where the owners were the target of a confrontation with police on August 21, 2020. (Henry Pratt)

As well as a drop in sales at Yema, the incident in Aug. 2020 has caused significant emotional damage for the couple. This is despite the fact that many Tiburon residents openly tell Khalif and Awash that they support them and their claims against Tiburon.  However, they do not know how deep this support runs through the community.

Anderson further explained that his clients “are somewhat fearful and anxious, and are considering relocating their business and residency in Tiburon.”

Another reason of concern for Anderson is that Blasi previously worked as a deputy with the Marin County Sheriff’s Office for seventeen years.  On Aug. 17, 2003, according to Anderson, Blasi was involved in the death of amateur rock musician Cary Grime. During the incident, Anderson says that Blasi was involved in the act of “hobbling” an intoxicated Grime, which involves binding all four limbs behind someone’s back. 

This, coupled with the use of alcohol and drugs, Grime experienced asphyxiation, which led him to pass out and later die after an attempted resuscitation. 

When asked if Blasi’s resignation and Cronin’s retirement were enough to address Khalif and Awash’s concerns with the Tiburon PD, Anderson said that they were not, and that more changes are needed.

Khalif and Awash declined to comment due to the pending lawsuit.

Because Chanis declined to release the results of the independent outside investigation of the Aug. 2020 incident at Yema, store owners Awash and Khalif now believe that they must take matters in their hands to force change at the Tiburon Police Department and ensure that another racially motivated incident does not happen again. 

This story was originally published on Jolly Roger on February 12, 2021.