On November 5, 2011, hundreds of people rallied in downtown Oakland to protest what they considered to be the inadequate sentence given to former police officer Johannes Mehserle for the killing of unarmed BART passenger Oscar Grant. After the rally, a group of the demonstrators began to march to the BART station where Grant had been killed. The Oakland Police and other law enforcement agencies forced this group of marchers onto a side street, where they announced that the demonstration had been declared an unlawful assembly. The demonstrators were there detained, prevented from dispersing, and arrested. This class-action suit was filed on behalf of these demonstrators, numbering around 150, who allegedly were never ordered to disperse or given an opportunity to do so, and who allegedly were arrested without probable cause or legal basis. One of the named plaintiffs informed the police that he was there as a legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild and asked to be allowed to leave; he was arrested. The demonstrators were held in buses and vans for several hours with their hands handcuffed behind their backs. Many class members alleged that they were denied bathroom access and were thus forced to urinate on themselves in the crowded vehicles. Almost all of the class members were then imprisoned in the Alameda County Jail overnight in overcrowded holding cells without room to lie down. All of the female class members were forced to submit to pregnancy tests under threat of transfer to the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, CA, where they would be held for a longer period. Some class members were forced to submit to oral DNA swabbing. None of the class members were ever charged with crimes relating to these arrests.
The suit was filed against the City of Oakland, Alameda County, and related individual plaintiffs (the Chief of Police, various officers, etc.) in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The Plaintiffs alleged in their Complaint that the Oakland Police Department actions violated multiple provisions of the Oakland Crowd Management/Crowd Control Policy established in accordance with the settlement agreement in Local 10 ILWU et al. v. City of Oakland (See related cases). 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 also forbade the City from dispersing demonstrations that had not been declared unlawful, and required the City to provide an opportunity for demonstrators to disperse prior to arrest. Plaintiffs also alleged that the mass arrest was the result of unlawful and unconstitutional policies and practices of Oakland, its Police Department, and Alameda and its Sheriff's Department. The Complaint specifically alleged that the Defendants had violated the plaintiff class members' constitutionally 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 of rights guaranteed by federal constitutional and statutory law under color of state law.
The plaintiffs sought class action certification, and injunctive relief enjoining the Defendants from engaging in the alleged unconstitutional and unlawful practices in the future. They sought an injunction ordering the sealing and destruction of all records of the arrests of the class members, including fingerprints, DNA samples, photographs, etc., and the disclosure of any agencies and entities to whom such information had been relayed. They also sought compensatory, punitive, and exemplary damages, and legal costs.
On March 23, 2013, the Court (Judge Thelton E. Henderson) granted the Plaintiffs' unopposed motion for class certification (2011 WL 5576921), and on June 13, 2013, the Court granted preliminary approval of the parties' proposed settlement agreement. The agreement would result in the a payment of $1,025,000 to the class members, of which $350,000 would be paid to the plaintiffs' attorneys for fees and costs. The four plaintiffs acting as class representatives would receive $9,000 each for serving in that role. The remaining money would be distributed between the class members. The settlement also would require the sealing and destruction of the arrest records and related documents and information arising from the incident. It would authorize the parties to amend certain sections of the Local 10 Settlement, in consultation with the National Lawyers Guild - SF Bay Area Chapter. The settlement would also require compliance by the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda Sheriff's Department with state law requiring the citation and release of qualifying individuals accused of misdemeanors. Other provisions regarding the treatment of detained demonstrators, for instance guaranteeing access to bathrooms and forbidding the taking of fingerprints and DNA samples of demonstrators facing only misdemeanor citations, are also included in the settlement.
Notice has been sent to class members of the proposed settlement. A Final Approval Hearing is scheduled for September 9, 2013.
The case is ongoing.Alex Colbert-Taylor - 07/09/2013