By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – The city and county of Sacramento – already targeted with multiple wrongful death and excessive force lawsuits for the killing of civilians – are now the subject of two lawsuits just this month for the treatment of demonstrators, and bystanders, protesting the Stephon Clark and other officer killings.
Civil rights attorney Mark Merin filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the county of Sacramento on behalf of Wanda Cleveland, run over by a Sheriff’s vehicle at the Stephon Clark protest a year ago March. An unarmed Clark was shot holding only a cellphone while trying to enter his grandparents’ home in March of 2018.
And now Merin has now filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of 84 people – including demonstrators, clergy, news reporters and legal observers – who were “kettled” (corralled) and arrested at a protest against police brutality March 4 in East Sacramento that followed a decision by County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert to not prosecute the officers involved in the Clark killing.
Eighty-five people were detained originally, but Sacramento Bee reporter Dale Kasler was released after being held handcuffed for more than an hour, despite his clearly visible press credentials. A Bee photographer was also shoved to the ground by Sacramento PD, and equipment damaged.
Named defendants in the federal action are the City of Sacramento, Sacramento Police Dept., County of Sacramento, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Dept and “DOES 1-400,” including officers from the California Highway Patrol.
The suit also pointedly singles out 50 of the unnamed defendants as “policymaking officials and/or had been delegated policymaking authority” for the city of Sacramento and Sacramento PD. No one has claimed responsibility for the decision-making actions of police that night, despite assurances by Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Sacramento PD Chief Daniel Hahn that they would do so.
The class action suit was filed for named representatives of the class: Sacramento State University Hornet reporter William Coburn, Alex Lyons, Kristina Marie Mayorga and SSU Black Student co-founder Khalil Ferguson, and 80 others.
Other reporters were arrested, in addition to Kasler and Coburn, including Scott Rodd, then of the Sacramento Business Journal and now Capital Public Radio reporter.
This Vanguard reporter narrowly averted arrest.
Two legal observers with the Sacramento chapter of the National Lawyers Guild were also handcuffed and arrested, although police treat them as non-participants at protests normally.
DA Schubert has declined to file charges against any of those arrested.
The lawsuit notes that the 150-person rally and march, held in the affluent “FAB 40s” section of East Sacramento around the area between 51st and 42nd Streets between J and Folsom, was the first protest in the wealthier part of the city. Most protests against police brutality were held in the South Area of town, or downtown.
The march was noisy, but peaceful as it wound its way through streets surrounded by large, opulent homes worth more than $1 million each. However, when it reached Trader Joe’s grocery store around 9 p.m., an estimated 200 heavily armored officers toting handguns, rifles, pepper spray, tasers and batons told those in the area to disperse “or risk lethal and non-lethal” force.
When participants began to comply, officers charged, and after blocking all exits besides one, herded protestors and bystanders who couldn’t get through the police dragnet down 51st street and across the 51st St. bridge over Highway 50, where they were met by more officers and mounted police.
All those in the area were arrested, even community and clergy leaders who said they had been in contact with Mayor Steinberg and Police Chief Hahn for weeks.
The lawsuit asserts the “class” – those arrested that night – were deprived of their civil rights, including detention/arrest, unreasonable search, use of force without sufficient governmental interest, retaliatory detention/arrest and discriminatory detention/arrest “ratified by policymaking officials.”
According the 34-page suit, a number of those arrested reported injuries during the arrests, including cuts and bruises. Those arrested were also not allowed to use restroom facilities in the long hours in custody.
In fact, the lawsuit – which lists 15 causes of action – states that law enforcement “retaliated” against demonstrators and bystanders for the exercise of their constitutionally-protected rights.
The lawsuit asks the court for a determination that the actions of the defendants “violate the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and article I, §§ 2, 3, 7(a), and 13 of the California Constitution,” for a preliminary and permanent injunction against City of Sacramento, Sacramento PD and “DOE” 100-400, an award of compensatory, general, and special damages against defendants.
Finally the suit asks for exemplary or punitive damages in as “amount sufficient to deter and to make an example of them, because their actions and/or inactions, as alleged, were motivated by evil motive or intent, involved reckless or callous indifference to federally protected rights, or were wantonly or oppressively done, or constituted oppression, fraud, or malice resulting in great harm.”
The Table Sacramento, which organized the march, said the “East Sacramento location was chosen because it is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the City of Sacramento and home to many influential leaders in city and state government.”
“Our plan was to bring the issue to a neighborhood whose residents have proximity to decision-making power,” said J. Ama Mantey, an affiliate member of The Table Sacramento. “This is a neighborhood that would likely never experience such a tragic and violent loss of one of its residents, so we are bringing the discomfort and pain of our trauma to their doorstep in hopes of spurring their solidarity and political engagement.”