By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – A determined throng of about 400 demonstrators marked the first anniversary of unarmed Stephon Clark’s killing by city of Sacramento police officers Monday night with a nearly three-mile march through Clark’s Meadowview neighborhood.
There were no incidents with police – who remained blocks away, only appearing to block streets so marchers could continue on their way. Most of the chants were “Stephon Clark,” and there were hundreds of those.
But, earlier in the day, a team of constitutional and criminal law lawyers put the city and county on notice that the “unlawful and unjustified” arrest of 84 people March 4 during a peaceful rally protesting the killing of Clark would have its day in court.
The National Lawyers Guild of Sacramento, one of 200 NLG chapter nationwide, brought the legal team together as a way, they said, to show those arrested during these protests that they would receive the legal help needed to allow them to freely and constitutionally practice their free speech rights.
“We’re serving a claim on the city and county and state for the 84 arrested with the intention of then filing a federal 1983 civil rights lawsuit on their behalf for damages,” said prominent civil rights attorney Mark Merin at the north end of the 51st Street Bridge, adding that the city and county of Sacramento as well as the CA Highway Patrol are expected to be parties in the legal action.
Subclasses of the lawsuit could include “non-participants” such as working news reporters – three were arrested March 4 after the East Sacramento protest, as well as NLG legal observers – two of them were arrested – and possibly another subclass, those injured in the wildcat arrests– there are reports of a broken leg, bruised and injured arms and wrists.
“This is a prerequisite and puts the city and county and state on notice that we’re suing for violation of freedom of speech and assembly, false arrest and injuries and damages,” for the 84 arrested, said Merin.
Merin slammed how Clark was “shot down,” and called the East Sacramento arrests an “outrage in the Fab 40s.”
“It was unjustified that they declared the protest an unlawful assembly…there were no acts of violence. They were then corralled, or kettled and arrested…the press, legal observers and the clergy. They (police) knew what they were going to do. We’re going to get compensation for everyone that was arrested,” said Merin, who has successfully sued municipalities on behalf of harmed groups, including people illegally strip searched at the Sacramento County Jail.
Merin also said he was preparing an injunction to be filed that would put police on notice that they cannot take certain actions, as outlined by the courts.
Finally, other lawyers said they will work with those arrested to have their arrests wiped from official records by filing petitions for “factual innocence” with the courts.
Lawyers said they were also concerned that although Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced she would not file charges against any of the 84 arrest during the mass roundup, those arrested may still face city of Sacramento charges. The city did that last year when the DA refused to file charges against eight Black Lives Matter activists arrested in a City Hall protest.
A major issue of interest to the legal team is who was responsible for preparing for the mass round-up, and what discipline will be meted out to them. Another issue is the apparent lack of police training in freedom of speech, assembly and press, and how this abusive police power was unrestrained by the police chief.
The NLG said it would have little problem obtaining, if necessary, pro bono – free – lawyers for most needing them. Lawyers, they said, have been calling to volunteer after hearing of the arrests.
Betty Williams, president of the Sacramento NAACP, told those at the news conference Monday that the 51st Street bridge is like the Selma bridge in Alabama where voting rights activists were beaten and arrested in the 1960s.
Williams said the national president of NAACP has offered help to the legal team “for the Selma bridge by way of Sacramento. There was great haste to make criminals out of the protestors here; we are happy the lawyers are looking into injunctive relief, so this doesn’t continue. We’re standing together to protect our constitutional rights,” she said.
Later Monday, Rev. Al Sharpton flew into Sacramento and at a State Capitol rally, talked about why it’s important to pass AB 392, pending legislation that would tighten the standard for police use of deadly force and require that grand juries hear from witnesses in such cases, noting that current law provided a huge loophole to allow to kill people with impunity.