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Police and protest

Injured protesting George Floyd murder, they are now suing Oakland and Alameda County

on November 30, 2021

Kierra Brown was helping wash people’s eyes when officers in riot gear approached, forcing her to run. It was June 2020, during a protest in downtown Oakland over the murder of George Floyd, and police had tear-gassed the crowd minutes earlier.

Police shot Brown in the back of her right leg with an “impact munition,” projectiles typically made from rubber, wood or beans. She hasn’t regained full sensation in that leg and is at risk of losing mobility in her foot, according to a federal lawsuit filed against the city and Alameda County that could become a class action. 

“There were a lot of points in time where I really thought that I was going to die,” Brown said, recalling the chaotic events that evening, where at one point she was detained and had guns pointed at her. “That hasn’t been easy to work through.”

Brown is one of three plaintiffs suing the city and county for injuries suffered at demonstrations last year. They allege that Oakland police and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office violated Oakland’s crowd management policies. 

The lawsuit was filed in April, and attorneys Rachel Lederman and R. Michael Flynn are now trying to make it a class action, which would bring in more people. They have filed a similar lawsuit against San Jose police. 

The Oakland City Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the suit. The Alameda County Counsel did not return a phone call seeking comment.

On Nov. 18, Chief District Judge Richard Seeborg ordered a settlement conference to be scheduled in the coming months.

The plaintiffs argue that the Sheriff’s Office needed to abide by Oakland’s crowd management policies because it was providing mutual aid to OPD. The policies, outlined in the lawsuit, limit when police can use weapons such as tear gas and impact munition. They were drafted as a result of two federal court agreements in 2013, regarding protests by Occupy Oakland and after the sentencing of the BART officer who killed Oscar Grant. 

The policy restricts OPD from firing less-lethal impact munitions at a crowd, saying it can only target “a specific individual who is engaging in conduct that poses an immediate threat of loss of life or serious bodily injury.”

Seeborg, of the Northern District of California, last month largely denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, writing in his opinion that it’s unclear if a mutual aid agency needs to abide by the requesting agency’s policies and procedures.

Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said in June that over 20 officers had violated department policy when they wrongfully used tear gas on demonstrators in summer 2020.

Tosh Sears was there on June 1, 2020, and he, too, was hit by impact munition and tear-gassed. 

“I would have never imagined being shot by any kind of law enforcement for this kind of event,” said Sears, who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. 

The traumatizing experience made him afraid to go to other community gatherings, he said. 

The lawsuit also alleges that the third plaintiff, Jasmine Gaffett, was shot at least 20 times as she ran from police. Images filed in the case show Gaffett with large welts on her body, having been shot in the spleen, kidneys, spine, groin and finger.

Gaffett could barely move for two days following the protest and couldn’t immediately seek health care since she had lost her insurance after being laid off, according to the lawsuit.

The case brings 12 counts against the city and county, including violation of First Amendment rights, excessive force and wrongful arrest.                                                                                             

“They’re abusing the use of these weapons,” Flynn said. “We want to make sure that this doesn’t happen in the future.”

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