Oakland and Alameda County will be paying more than $1 million and reform their crowding control policies to settle a lawsuit that was filled by 150 people who were arrested and held for hours after protesting the sentence given to the BART police officer who fatally shot Oscar Grant in 2009.
The federal class-action suit accused Oakland police of violating their own policies by failing to order demonstrators to disperse before arresting them on suspicion of unlawful assembly on November 5, 2010, in east of Lake Merritt. Rather than being cited and then being released for a misdemeanor offense, protesters said they were held in the sheriff’s department busses for hours while handcuffed, leading some people to urinate on the floor or themselves. Demonstrators were also held overnight in crowded jail cells as the result of deputies being overwhelmed by the number of arrestees.
On Monday the tentative $1.0025 million settlement was announced which is expected to be finalized in September after approval by the individual plaintiffs. Alameda County has agreed to pay $175, 000. The deal will also require the agencies to adopt policies for the “expeditious citation and release” of those arrested for low-level misdemeanors.
Rachel Lederman, an attorney for the National Lawyers Guild in San Francisco filed the law suit that was recently settled. She hoped the agreement would allow for First Amendment expression in Oakland. Lederman said that officers have repeatedly violated department procedures that were adopted in 2004 after a rally against the Iraq War occurred outside the Port of Oakland. In the 2003 protest officers fired nonlethal projectiles at protestors including wooden bullets, grenades and beanbags.
Oakland police were criticized by a court-appointed independent monitor for their response to Occupy Oakland protest in fall 2011, where officers fired nonlethal munitions at demonstrators. Back in January 2012, 409 people were unlawfully arrested after law-enforcement officers surrounded them without a dispersal order outside the YMCA on Broadway in Oakland, which was a separate lawsuit filed by eight Occupy Oakland protestors that is still pending.
Police Chief Howard Jordan said he had ordered major reforms in how police should deal with large crowds such as having smaller groups of officers go into crowds to weed out protestors. Lederman said the settlement ensures federal court enforcement of the department’s crowd-control policy for up to seven years.
Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern responded by saying his deputies now have better technology and procedures to process arrestees in large protests. “We believe we’ll be able to manage these large groups in a much more efficient manner.”
Protestors were rallying together against the two-year sentence a Los Angeles judge handed down the day to former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle for fatally shooting Grant in 2009. The day of the arrest demonstrators tried to march to BART’s Fruitvale Station, where Grant was killed, but were stopped by police officers. The plaintiffs have mentioned that police wrongfully arrested everyone present including legal observers.