Police and Government Misconduct

Rachel Lederman: I first got involved in police misconduct civil rights cases as a result of my criminal defense work with political demonstrators. In 1989, Dennis Cunningham and I successfully sued the San Francisco Police to obtain justice for AIDS activists who had been brutalized and unlawfully detained in what became known as the “Castro Sweep”.

A few years later, SFPD swept the Mission District, unlawfully arresting more than 300 people after then-Mayor Frank Jordan declared a local State of Emergency in response to unrest over the acquittals of the LAPD officers whose beating of Rodney King had been captured on video. A planned San Francisco demonstration that night had not even begun before the police arrested hundreds of would-be demonstrators and passersby, without opportunity to disperse. We sued the Mayor and City and obtained a $1 million settlement after five years of hard-fought litigation, and after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in our favor in Collins v. Jordan. This decision confirmed that the government may not suspend fundamental rights to freedom of speech and assembly during volatile times.

Along with years of other organizing and policy work by many groups and individuals, the Collins v. Jordan case played a role in changing SFPD’s practices toward demonstrations. But when the U.S. began bombing Iraq in 2003, the Oakland Police responded to a peaceful community picket at the Port of Oakland by shooting more than 50 antiwar demonstrators and longshoremen with so-called “less lethal” munitions, such as wooden bullets and lead shot-filled rounds. I was part of a National Lawyers Guild – ACLU legal team, who along with Jim Chanin and John Burris sued Oakland in Local 10, et al. v. City of Oakland, and negotiated a new comprehensive OPD Crowd Control Policy, as well as a monetary settlement totaling more than $2 million. The OPD Crowd Control Policy is a model policy that prohibits unconstitutional tactics such as firing impact munitions into crowds, or making mass arrests without individual justification and without notice and opportunity to disperse. Instead, it gives the police tools and guidelines to manage crowds with minimal reliance on force and authority.

Unfortunately, the minute OPD was once again faced with volatile protests, it dispensed with the negotiated Crowd Control Policy, even though the Policy was part of the federal court settlement order in the Local 10 litigation. In June, 2013, a settlement was reached in two companion federal civil rights cases, Spalding v. City of Oakland and Campbell v. City of Oakland., providing for federal court enforcement of the Crowd Control Policy along with other reforms and a total of more than $2 million. I am the lead counsel in these two cases on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild. Spalding et al. v. City of Oakland and Alameda County is a federal civil rights class action arising from the mass arrest of 150 people on Nov. 5, 2010 (the day of Mehserle’s sentencing). Campbell et al. v. City of Oakland is a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by 12 people who were injured and/or wrongfully arrested on Oct. 25 and Nov. 2, 2011, including Scott Campbell, whose video, inadvertently capturing his own unprovoked shooting by an OPD “Tango Team” officer caused national outrage.

Watch Jacob Crawford’s video about the Spalding case here.

More info and videos on the Campbell lawsuit here.

In December, 2013, a separate lawsuit filed on behalf of Kayvan Sabeghi settled for $645,000. Mr. Sabeghi lost most of his spleen when he was beaten with a baton by OPD Officer Frank Uu during the November 2, 2011, Occupy demonstration. Dennis Cunningham and Bobbie Stein were co-counsel on this litigation.

In March, 2014, co-counsel Jim Chanin, Julie Houk and I settled the last and most serious case arising from the fall, 2011, Occupy events, Olsen v. City of Oakland, for $4.5 million. Scott Olsen, a Marines veteran, was shot in the head with a lead-filled beanbag round during the October 25, 2011, Occupy demonstration. His skull was shattered and he suffered a serious brain injury. After he was lying critically injured on the ground, Officer Robert Roche threw an explosive CS Blast grenade onto him and people who were trying to come to his aid. Read the complaint here.

See Jacob Crawford’s video about the Olsen case here.

I accept a limited number of individual police misconduct cases, for people who have been beaten, shot, wrongfully arrested, or otherwise abused by Bay Area law enforcement agencies.

For useful information on evaluating your own potential police misconduct lawsuit, read Ben Rosenfeld’s guide.