The National Lawyer’s Guild yesterday announced the settlment of a lawsuit from 2010 in which one hundred and fifty Oscar Grant verdict protesters were “mass arrested” for no reason other than revenge by Oakland Police and then mistreated by Alameda County Sheriffs’ Deputies. The protest took place on November 5th, 2010, the day that Johnannes Meserle, the BART Police Officer who killed Oscar Grant was sentenced to less than two years in jail (with time in custody reducing the sentence) for the murder of Oscar Grant.
U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson has granted preliminary approval to a $1.025 million settlement in a class action lawsuit brought by the National Lawyers Guild on behalf of 150 people who were arrested by Oakland Police during a Nov. 5, 2010, demonstration…
“We were handcuffed and left sitting on the street and then in buses for a total of about eight hours without access to a bathroom. People urinated in their pants as we sat in the hot crowded bus.”
“No food was provided for more than twelve hours after our initial detention. There was no room to lie down. I sat up against a wall for the entire night.”
There was no reason for these mass arrests, not the least of which was because OPD’s Crowd Control Policy – negotiated back in 2005 in response to even worse brutality against Iraq War protesters (right photo) – specifically forbids Oakland Police from behaving in the manner they did. However it provided no enforcement mechanism other than lawsuits. Thus OPD has repeatedly violated it knowing that any retribution would be years down the road and be borne by Oakland’s taxpayers, not police officers.
$1,000,000 divided by 150 protesters – with half of that going to attorneys’ fees – is little more than a sop. $3000 per for illegal arrest, dehumanization, mistreatment, suppression of 1st amendment rights both then and into the future, and possible psychological effects cannot be redressed for such a pittance and be called a fair settlement in any sense of the word.
The settlement does provide for new “mass arrestee” handling, booking and “cite and release” policies. The NLG learned the lesson of failing to including enforcement mechanisms when dealing with OPD, because this settlement also includes provisions for enforcement of the Crowd Control Policy and newly negotiated provisios.
… the settlement agreement reaffirms, and provides for court enforcement of OPD’s Crowd Control Policy for a period of up to 7 years. The Policy was the result earlier litigation over abuses against protesters. “We brought the lawsuit in order to protect the constitutional right to dissent in Oakland, and enforce the OPD Crowd Control Policy,” explained lead attorney Rachel Lederman.
Judge Henderson already has OPD under for-all-practical-purposes Federal control. In February he appointed a Compliance Officer, Thomas Frazier, to enforce another settlement – the Negotiated Settlement Agreement from 2003. This agreement, curbing such police practices as racial profiling and use of force violations, has yet to be fully complied with. Its continued lack of progress towards compliance over the last few years led the plaintiffs in the decade-old case to appeal to Judge Henderson to take sterner measures, culminating in the appointment of Frazier as Compliance Officer with a broad range of powers over OPD’s procedures, policies and personel.
Now Henderson has yet another area of OPD non-compliance to deal with! Whether OPD can ever be forced to comply with the US Constitution and policies they themselves agree to remains to be seen, and history does not provide us with any confidence in this regard.
Oakland and OPD are facing another mass arrest lawsuit, this time of some four hundred Occupiers. This latest example of OPD’s unfailing unwillingness to abide by its own agreements occurred on January 28th, 2012 when Occupy Oakland protesters participating in “Move In Day” were kettled and mass arrested on Broadway outside the YMCA in Oakland (See ALL HOLY HELL HAS BROKEN OUT IN OAKLAND).
I can only speculate, but it seems that insofar as Oakland has admitted culpability in the Oscar Grant protest mass arrest case, they now have no leg to stand on in this case and should be eager to reach a similar settlement – even if it costs Oakland far more than $1,000,000 because of the larger number of arrestees.
This is only the tip of the monetary iceberg. At least three lawsuits arising from the Occupy protests in 2011 – involving being shot in the head and nearly killed (Scott Olsen), being beaten until nearly dead (Keyvan Sebeghi) and being shot at by OPD with rubber bullets for no reason whatsoever (Scott Campbell) are also pending.
Someday, the Oakland Police may be able to distinguish between peaceful protesters and 131 murderers. This decision does not harken that day. We are still waiting.