On the morning of April 7, 2003, protesters gathered at the Port of Oakland for a peaceful demonstration against the Iraq war and against specific companies that profited from the war and did business at the Port. Demonstrators formed a picket line and encouraged workers and truck drivers to refuse to enter the facilities, but did not to obstruct their access. That morning, the officers of Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) met to decide whether its members should report to work given the demonstration and the police presence. Several members of the Union were posted at the gates to the terminals of two of the companies against which the demonstration was held, with the purpose of letting Union members know that a decision was pending and that they should not enter until it was reached. Most or all of the Union members present waited outside of the gates in a group separate from the demonstrators. Also present were several legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild. At about 7:15 AM, the Oakland Police issued a dispersal order, alleged to be inaudible to most of the demonstrators and unclear in its directive. The demonstrators cleared away from the gates and allowed traffic to pass through more easily. The police formed lines blocking access to the route to the BART station by which most of the demonstrators arrived, and also to the parking lots where others had parked. At about 7:30, allegedly without any further warning or provocation, the Oakland police officers began barraging the demonstrators with a variety of "less-lethal weapons" including "sting ball" grenades filled with rubber pellets and tear gas, and wooden dowels and lead shot-filled bean bags fired from shotguns. The officers did not distinguish between the demonstrators, legal observers, and members of the Union, subjecting them all to this barrage. The demonstrators and others attempted to retreat along the only open routes, and the Police pursued, continuing to fire "less-lethal" weapons into the crowd and to strike at them with battons. Some demonstrators were intentionally struck by officers' motorcycles, in accordance with the Oakland Police Department's (OPD) standard practice for crowd dispersal at the time. The officers fired these weapons at demonstrators who arrived after any notice to disperse was given, and on bystanders. The police allegedly also purposely singled out and fired their weapons at legal observers, videographers and journalists, and individuals who appeared to be leaders because they carried bullhorns.
On June 26, 2003, two separate suits were filed against the City of Oakland, the OPD, and related defendants, in response to the OPD's actions on April 7. Both suits were filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Because the cases involved substantially similar questions of fact and law and arose out of the same events, on August 11, 2003, the Court ordered that the cases be officially related and heard before the same judge. The cases were not consolidated under the same docket, but most or all of the substantive orders and opinions issued by the Court thereafter bore the docket numbers and captions of both cases and applied to both cases. The cases were also officially related to a third case, Allen v. City of Oakland, a landmark case filed in 2000 that had settled in March 2003 with the City agreeing to implement comprehensive reforms to its policing practices and to submit to monitoring by court-appointed experts (Allen has a separate entry in the Clearinghouse, see related cases below.)
One of the two cases addressed here, Local 10 ILWU v. City of Oakland, was filed as a class-action on behalf of all persons who attended the April 7 demonstration or who might attend future demonstrations in Oakland, and who were or would be subjected to the Defendants' alleged policy and practice of using excessive and arbitrary force to disperse or control demonstrations. In addition to the class plaintiffs, the suit also named as plaintiffs Local 10 ILWU and nine of its members, who were "standing by" in the vicinity of the demonstration but not active participants in it. All of the Union member plaintiffs had been hit by projectiles fired by the police.
The other suit, Coles v. City of Oakland, sought relief for several individual demonstrators who were allegedly injured by the OPD. These individuals were all demonstrators who allegedly had been shot by the police with less-lethal munitions, struck with motorcycles, and/or wrongfully arrested. One plaintiff was struck in the torso by a police baton, hit by a motorcycle, and shot in the face and neck with a lead-filled bean bag.
In both cases, Plaintiffs alleged that the Defendants' actions were prohibited the Constitutions of both the U.S and California. They alleged violations of their guaranteed rights to freedom of speech and association, their right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, their rights to equal protection and due process, their right to be free from the use of excessive and arbitrary force, and their right to privacy. The case was brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which allows private actions to be brought against States for violations under color of state law of rights guaranteed by federal constitutional and statutory law. The Union also alleged that the Defendants had violated California privacy law by conducting investigations into its political affiliations and activities prior to the scheduled demonstration.
In both cases, Plaintiffs sought compensatory, exemplary, and punitive damages, as well as to recover legal costs. They also sought declaratory judgments holding the Defendants' actions to have been unlawful violations of the Plaintiffs' rights under the Constitutions of the U.S. and of California and of statutory law. They sought injunctions that among other things would prohibit the Defendants from unlawfully interfering with the constitutional and statutory rights of participants in public demonstrations and protests; from intentionally striking demonstrators with motorcycles; and from using "less-lethal" weapons as a method of crowd control against non-violent crowds or demonstrations. They sought an order compelling compliance with the already mandatory terms of the Settlement and Consent Decree reached in Allen v. City of Oakland.
On December 24, 2004, the parties entered a court-approved partial settlement addressing the Plaintiffs' claims for injunctive and declaratory relief to the extent that those claims related to the Defendants' crowd control policies. At the same time, class-action elements of the Local 10 ILWU case were voluntarily dismissed without prejudice. In the settlement, the Defendants denied any wrongdoing. The claims for damages and costs, and for other injunctive relief, remained to be litigated. The Court retained jurisdiction over the issues resolved by the settlement for purposes of enforcement. The City of Oakland and its Police Department adopted a new official Crowd Control/Crowd Management Policy in light of the settlement. The Crowd Control Policy restricted the City's power to declare an assembly unlawful only to those circumstances where demonstrators had already acted illegally or where they posed a clear and present danger of imminent violence. It forbade the OPD from dispersing demonstrations that had not been declared unlawful. It also required the OPD to provide an opportunity for demonstrators at assemblies declared unlawful to safely disperse prior to arrest, and required that repeated and sufficiently amplified announcements of the dispersal order, specifying available routes, be made. It also forbade the indiscriminate use of less-lethal munitions directly against crowds, even when specific individuals in the group were already violent. It prohibited the use of intentional motorcycle strikes and certain less-lethal weapons, such as wooden dowels and tasers, against crowds, and required that bean-bag munitions only be used against specifically targeted violent individuals or individuals who otherwise present an imminent risk to themselves or others. In 2011-12, the City of Oakland allegedly violated this policy repeatedly when it used less-lethal munitions against non-violent demonstrators at Occupy Oakland demonstrations and other protests. See related cases below (Campbell and Spalding).
On April 27, 2005, the Court (Judge Thelton E. Henderson) denied the Defendants' motions to dismiss the Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims in both cases for the use of excessive force in instances where plaintiffs were not arrested. The Defendants did not seek to have dismissed the Fourth Amendment excessive force claims of those plaintiffs who had been arrested. The Judge held that whether the police actions intended to physically move the plaintiffs constituted seizures (and therefore would qualify for protection under the Amendment) was a question that would need to be resolved at trial. The order also denied the Defendants motion to dismiss the Union's First Amendment claims, because the Union alleged that the police had investigated the Union prior to the protest and knew that many of its leaders supported the demonstrators and their cause.
On September 27, 2005, the Court granted in part and denied in part Plaintiffs' motion for attorneys' fees and legal costs, determining that the Plaintiffs were entitled to fees but declining to order the Defendants to pay the amount requested, totaling about $1,100,000, although not declaring this amount to be unreasonable. The order required the parties to negotiate further, and to return to the Court for a judicial determination of the amount to be paid only if the negotiations failed. Coles v. City of Oakland, 2005 WL 2373724 (N.D. Cal. 2005).
On December 6, 2005, Judge Henderson issued an order that granted in part and denied in part the parties' various motions for partial summary judgment or adjudication, resolving all outstanding questions of law and fact except the Fourth Amendment issue described above, which he held would need to be argued orally. He granted the Local 10 Plaintiffs' unopposed motion for summary judgment on their privacy claim, and the Defendants' unopposed motions to dismiss certain claims against some of the individual police officer defendants.
After this order, the Plaintiffs in the Local 10 ILWU case entered settlement negotiations with the Defendants, and on July 31, 2006 the action was voluntarily dismissed with prejudice in light of settlements reached between the parties. These settlement agreements have not been obtained by the Clearinghouse and their terms are unknown, but they did include attorneys' fees and costs. The Court retained jurisdiction over the case in order to enforce the earlier settlement that established the Crowd Control Policy.
The Plaintiffs in Coles also reached settlements with the Defendants. One plaintiff received $210,000 inclusive of attorneys' fees and costs. Another received $8,000, inclusive of costs. Other plaintiffs settled for $30,000, $10,000, $31,250, and $48,000, exclusive of attorneys' fees and costs. The amount received by the remaining plaintiff is unknown.
On January 4, 2007, Judge Henderson granted in part and denied in part the Plaintiffs' motion for attorneys' fees in the Cole case. The Court ordered the Defendants to pay the Plaintiffs' attorneys $621,512.12. This included attorneys' fees and costs for the Coles portion of the earlier settlement for injunctive relief that lead to the Crowd Control Policy.
As of the time of this writing, July 2013, there has been no activity on either docket since this last order. The settlement establishing the Crowd Control Policy does not appear to have a termination date, and so it is possible that the case could be reopened.Alex Colbert-Taylor - 07/12/2013