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Maryland police chief responds after cop questions citizen over immigration status

BEL AIR, Md. — The police chief of a small Maryland town responded Sunday in a Facebook post to outcry over a Dec. 21 incident in which a resident was stopped as she went for a walk, and asked if she was in the country legally.

Aravinda Pillalamarri, a U.S. citizen, told CBS Baltimore that officers in the town where she lives, Bel Air, stopped her while she was on a casual evening walk in her neighborhood.

“I had just come out for a walk, so I didn’t have my ID. And he said, ‘Why don’t you have ID? Are you here illegally?’” Pillalamarri said.  

During a Town Hall meeting soon after the incident, Bel Air Police Chief Charles Moore indicated that the incident made him realize his officers need more training on handling similarly sensitive interactions. In a Facebook post Sunday, Moore said his department had received a high volume of calls related to the incident and the department’s overall approach to immigration issues.

“The Bel Air Police Department in no manner supports bias based policing/racial profiling tactics while in the performance of our duties,” Moore said. “Our goal is to earn everyone’s respect and admiration and to keep our community safe.”

Moore said in the post that when officers first encountered Pillalamarri, at around 9:40 p.m., they were responding to a report of a suspicious person in a neighborhood where packages had previously been stolen from porches. Moore said Pillalamarri fit the description reported to police.

“Upon (the officer’s) approach to Ms. Pillalamarri, the officer was immediately asked by Ms. Pillalamarri if she was being stopped for ‘walking while brown,’” Moore wrote.  “The officer immediately denied this and indicated to her that he had been dispatched to a call for service and was trying to check her welfare. Ms. Pillalamarri then began to walk away from the officer, refusing to speak to him or to provide identification. The officer continued to attempt to establish dialogue.”

Pillalamarri could not immediately be reached for comment, but reiterated her concern about the stop during her interview with CBS Baltimore.

“I didn’t expect this to happen in Bel Air. Walking while brown? He said, ‘No, no, no, nothing like that,’” Pillalamarri said.

Moore said Pillalamarri at first refused to identify herself, which is why she was asked if she was in the country legally. However, he noted that the department personnel are undergoing “continual training and education” related to the incident. 

“It is also clear that questioning one’s immigration status isn’t the answer for relieving tension,” Moore wrote.

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