Sacramento Legal Observer Shot in Face by Police at Protest Demands Arrest of Officer

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By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

SACRAMENTO – Monday, on the same day that the City of Sacramento said it was dismissing charges against 65 people arrested for curfew violations during the George Floyd police brutality protests a month ago, a legal observer shot in the face by police filed a complaint to have that officer or officers arrested and prosecuted.

There was a certain irony to those intertwining stories – peaceful protestors with hands up battered by tear gas, pepper balls, concussion grenades and so-called “less-than-lethal” hard projectiles fired at their faces were set free Monday.

But their tormentors and, in effect, judge, jury and executioners with badges are now facing arrest and prosecution.

National Lawyers Guild legal observer and local chapter board member Danny Garza, a six-year military veteran, described what he called a “wartime” scene on the streets of Sacramento May 30 when he was standing out of the way of police, as directed by them, and recording the actions of law enforcement.

“There was no reason to shoot me. I was filming excessive force on others (by police),” said Garza, who was hit with a rubber bullet or facsimile just above his left eye, sending him to the Veterans Administration with a concussion and other injuries.

Even when Garza was smashed in the face, and medics sought to get him away from the scene, officers fired repeated rounds of pepper spray canisters at him as he crouched under a stairwell far from the protest.

“Officers acted as though they were above the law. What they did was intentional, with malice and criminal,” said Garza, who was clearly identified as a legal observer and “non-participant” with a bright green hat. The same police told him earlier to stay off the street and move to the sidewalk, which is where Garza was when he was hit

“I am asking that criminal charges be filed by the District Attorney,” said Garza Monday at a Zoom news conference, supported by a number of people, in green hats, who are also legal observers.

“No, they (police) are not above the law. They can defend themselves in court just like the rest of us,” added Garza, noting that his vision is still blurry, he has short term memory lapses, nausea and other debilitating physical problems relating to his injury suffered that night.

“They knew they hurt me, and never offered to assist me; they fired at people on the ground and those grabbing them and directed fire at medics helping me,” said Garza.

Garza said law enforcement that night included those from the Sacramento Police Dept., Davis Police, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Dept., Yolo County Sheriff’s Dept. and the California Highway Patrol.

Monday, he filed his complaint with the Sacramento Police Dept. Internal Affairs and Sacramento Community Police Review Commission, with copies to the Sacramento County District Attorney Office, City of Sacramento Mayor, and City Council, CA Attorney General, the United Nations and U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division.

“It is Mr. Garza’s wish and intent that criminal charges be sought and responsible parties be prosecuted in criminal court to the fullest extent of the law. Mr. Garza also demands the immediate arrest of SPD Officer Badge #1011, or those found to be responsible for Mr. Garza’s injuries,” according to a statement from the Mark Merin Law Office, which represents Garza.

According to the complaint, “The officer aimed his firearm at Mr. Garza and fired. Mr. Garza was struck on the left side of his forehead, just above his left eye, with a projectile. Mr. Garza fell to the ground, crying-out in pain.”

The complaint continued, “Mr. Garza felt severe pain and blood trickling from his face. Mr. Garza had been concussed by the projectile shot at his head. Mr. Garza stood up, walked to the police line, and confronted the officer he believed had shot him (and) repeatedly asked for the officer to identify his badge number. The officer responded ‘#1011.’ However, Mr. Garza does not know if the officer who provided the badge number is same the officer responsible for shooting him in the face.”

“They (police) saw us, they knew us, they have no excuse,” said Elizabeth Kim, president of the NLG Sacramento Chapter, and who was also legal observing that night with Garza. “Danny was recording acts of random violence by police,” Kim said, adding that there is evidence that authorities are targeting legal observers and news media at police brutality demonstrations.

The complaint made that point, as well: “Mr. Garza donned a military-style gas mask which permitted him to observe the demonstration without the gas affecting him. Mr. Garza continued to wear his high-visibility neon-green hat identifying him as a nonparticipant NLG Legal Observer.”

“They are not absolved of shooting Danny in the face,” noted Kim, who said in private discussions with law enforcement she’s learned they have a policy of shooting projectiles at the face. She said Danny is a co-founder of the chapter, and the primary Know Your Rights trainer for the community and that his continued loss is “immeasurable.”

Civil rights lawyer Mark Merin Monday called the shooting an “outrage,” noting that people were protesting police brutality across the country, “and how did our police respond? With more violence. Using new types of weapons against peaceful protestors.”

Merin has already filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Garza and at least three other people – including those who may or have lost their eyesight from being hit by the rubber bullets, or facsimile, fired indiscriminately by law enforcement.

Police “engaged in actions to fire into the crowd, and then they ran down and targeted Danny,” Merin added.

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About The Author

Veteran news reporter and editor, including stints at the Sacramento Bee, Woodland Democrat, and Vietnam war correspondent and wire service bureau chief at the State Capitol.

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53 thoughts on “Sacramento Legal Observer Shot in Face by Police at Protest Demands Arrest of Officer”

  1. Chris Griffith

    Wow what a picture that cop is a good shot.

    I sure hope he can go out and find a good lawyer to represent him one smarter and he is anyway.

  2. John Hobbs

    Wow what a contemptuous remark @Chris Griffith. The first amendment violation aside, your lack of humanity reflects the callousness and ignorance of far too many white males. Here’s hoping you don’t get shot for doing your job.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Sure it’s relevant.

        Police will ultimately use force, if commands are not obeyed.  Some people don’t accept that, and experience “results”.

        Now, whether or not specific actions are justified might be an issue.

        Glad that the guy didn’t lose an eye.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Regardless, the government has authority to establish curfews under some circumstances.

          And if you purposefully disobey them, you’re likely to experience consequences.

          From what I can tell, some people just plain don’t like the authority that police have, nor do they think that the laws apply to them.

          Hence, the consequences.

        2. Eric Gelber

          Police will ultimately use force, if commands are not obeyed. 

          There are no facts presented in the article to suggest that the force used by police was reasonable under the circumstances.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Now, whether or not specific actions are justified might be an issue.

          But again, one can usually expect “force” of some type, if laws are broken and commands are not obeyed.

          Sorry, but that’s the way it is. (This isn’t an “opinion”.)

        4. Ron Oertel

          I’m not weighing in, on the specific use of force. If others want to weigh in on that, have at it.

          I do know that I wouldn’t be there, under such circumstances.

           

        5. Ron Oertel

          Not the point, though, is it?

          Depends upon what point you’re trying to prove.

          I had noted the following:

          Police will ultimately use force, if commands are not obeyed.

          I also noted the following:

          From what I can tell, some people just plain don’t like the authority that police have, nor do they think that the laws apply to them.

          I realize that the author, you, and another commenter are making a different point (which I’m not weighing in on).

        6. Eric Gelber

          From what I can tell, some people just plain don’t like the authority that police have, nor do they think that the laws apply to them.

          True, but nothing in the article suggests this is in any way relevant to the situation here.

        7. Ron Oertel

          True, but nothing in the article suggests this is in any way relevant to the situation here.

          Actually, it is suggested (e.g., assuming that a curfew was in place, the guy was aware of it, he understood that the police were there to enforce it, etc.).

          Assuming that’s true, what part of that is “not relevant”, as you put it?

        8. Eric Gelber

          That’s a lot of “assuming.”  And it has nothing to do with (i.e., it’s irrelevant to ) whether the use of force here was excessive under the facts, as described.

        9. Ron Oertel

          That’s a lot of “assuming.”  

          Honestly, I don’t think it is unresonable to assume (the likelihood) of any of that, in this blog at least. As a legal matter, well – you can’t decide that in a blog (much as that’s attempted on here, regarding a variety of topics).

          And it has nothing to do with whether the use of force here was excessive under the facts, as described.

          A different point, than the one you took exception to (regarding “relevance” to my comment).

          I’d encourage you to discuss your concern, regarding that. I’m not here to argue that.

  3. Robert Canning

    Ron notes “But again, one can usually expect “force” of some type, if laws are broken and commands are not obeyed….sorry, but that’s the way it is. (This isn’t an “opinion”.)”

    I’m not sure what your experience is with use-of-force situations. But that is simply not how it works. My experience is in the prison setting where commands are often given and often not obeyed. In these situations, the ultimate outcome is often not the use of force but de-escalation. This can take the form of simply backing away, letting time take its course, slowing things down, and offering alternatives. There are situations where force is applied – most often when there is a danger to life.

    And, by the way, that’s not how it used to be but the system did change about five years ago so that the use of force in many circumstances was greatly reduced by changing policy, training in alternatives, and providing sanctions when force was wrongly applied.

    So, simply put, your assertion is an opinion, and not fact.

    1. Ron Oertel

      So, simply put, your assertion is an opinion, and not fact.

      And yet, the article itself shows this as “fact“.

      Another fact is that de-escalation doesn’t always work.

      My experience is in the prison setting where commands are often given and often not obeyed.

      As you noted, they’re already in prison.

      1. Robert Canning

        Ron, I was responding to your comment, not the article.

        And your point about people in prison is what? Maybe you could tell us what you mean by the comment that “they’re already in prison.”

      2. Richard McCann

        Another fact is that de-escalation doesn’t always work.

        So does that mean that de-escalation should never be used? Or how about, we should ALWAYS start with de-escalation unless in extreme cases (in which protests do not count)?

        “And if you purposefully disobey them, you’re likely to experience consequences.”

        Violence is never an acceptable consequence. EVER. Violence is ONLY acceptable where an officer is in immediate physical danger from a violent attack.

        1. Robert Canning

          Not sure how your comment that “they’re already in prison” applies. Maybe I wasn’t very clear in what I was trying to say. First, individuals in prison break rules and make threats all the time, just like individuals in the community. There is a “police department” in prison just like on the street. (In fact, the inmates commonly refer to the correctional staff as “the police.”) Essentially the issue is the same as in these demonstrations. Rules (i.e. laws/regulations) get challenged/broken and law enforcement has a choice about how to respond. It used to be in California’s prisons that the cops used a LOT of force to manage the situation. Just like we see the police on the street use a LOT of force. But, the use of force in California prisons has gone down a lot since the rules of engagement were changed five years ago.

          You seemed, IMO, to assume that force will eventually be used in these situations (demonstrations, etc.) – that it is inevitable. If that’s not what you meant, then I misunderstood.

           

           

      3. Ron Oertel

        Robert:  “And your point about people in prison is what? Maybe you could tell us what you mean by the comment that “they’re already in prison.”

        That’s where individuals who violate laws are placed.

        Richard:  “So does that mean that de-escalation should never be used?”

        No – the (broader) goal is always to make that the priority, of course.  How that might (or might not) work in this type of situation hasn’t been discussed.

        Violence is never an acceptable consequence. EVER.  ONLY acceptable where an officer is in immediate physical danger from a violent attack.

        I believe you’re referring to the specific situation, here.

        But, I have some questions for you (and others):

        Is “force” by the police necessarily violence? If not, what types of force are acceptable in such situations? (Or, in other crimes where police aren’t directly faced with a life-threatening situation to themselves.)

        Should “force” be an option to dissipate an unlawful assembly (where property is continuing to be damaged, for example)?

        I believe that some on here don’t think so.

        Also, is there sometimes a danger (beyond property damage) in these situations?  (For example, have you seen some of the violence that’s occurred beyond property damage in some recent protests?)

         

         

        1. Robert Canning

          To be technical about this, yes, the use of force by the police is violence. Violence involves the actual physical harming of another by an individual. Homicide, whether by the police or a civilian is considered a violent death for counting purposes. Deaths are either violent (homicide and suicide), natural (illness), or accidental. The police are given legal license to use force to prevent crime and to maintain public safety. These are the typical boundaries and definitions.

          How much force and when it can be used is determined by the law and the jurisdiction. Even wartime has rules for the use of force. The courts have, over the years, allowed the police to use force in situations that were out of bounds before. They can shoot someone in the back who is fleeing if they have reasonable cause to believe the individual is in the process of or has just committed a felony. (The attorneys on here should correct me on this if I am off base.)

          The point I think some (including myself) are making is that we have recently seen that the police use unnecessary and an unreasonable amount of force when they do not have to given (to use the language that is often found in the policies) the totality of circumstances and what is objectively and reasonably necessary to prevent harm to life and limb or the destruction of property. The police are given plenty of training in determining when to use force but it all comes down to their perceptions of threat and danger, and it seems, IMO, that they too often see threat where it does not exist and thus use a level of force when it is not objectively necessary. Philandro Castile is a good example. The rubber bullet to the head is another.

        2. Ron Oertel

          the totality of circumstances and what is objectively and reasonably necessary to prevent harm to life and limb or the destruction of property. The police are given plenty of training in determining when to use force but it all comes down to their perceptions of threat and danger, and it seems, IMO, that they too often see threat where it does not exist and thus use a level of force when it is not objectively necessary.

          Philandro Castile is a good example. The rubber bullet to the head is another.

          I don’t know how the first person is (I’m sure I could look it up).

          Regarding the second person (the subject of this article), I think the “mistake” that you and others make is to isolate what happened to an individual, vs. the “totality of circumstances”, as you put it.

          I doubt that I’m going to agree with you and some others.  I’ve posted examples of “totality of circumstances” on this page.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Oddly enough, you’d never know that I’m not even concluding that the use of rubber bullets was the best option in this case.  And yet, I’ve (somehow) generated so many responses.

          I’ve spent way more time and energy responding to those seeking to challenge me (regarding whatever they believe), than I’d care to.

          No one on here has actually stated what SHOULD be done in these types of situations.

        4. John Hobbs

          “what happened to an individual” was that a police officer shot him in the face while the individual was not committing a crime , but PERFORMING A  CONSTITUTIONALLY PROTECTED FUNCTION.Stop trying to put lipstick on this pig.

        5. Ron Oertel

          How about nothing?

          That is an option.  I don’t know what else was going on, other than apparently breaking cufew.

          I do know that there have been LOTS of other violent and destructive “protests” in Sacramento and elshewere, recently.

          ““what happened to an individual” was that a police officer shot him in the face while the individual was not committing a crime, but PERFORMING A  CONSTITUTIONALLY PROTECTED FUNCTION.”

          I don’t believe that’s the case, when breaking a curfew.

          Those curfews were put in place for a reason.

           

        6. Ron Oertel

          Was he breaking a curfew, in a dangerous situation?

          If so, then you, Hobbs, and all of the others on here who claim that are factually incorrect.

          Note that those curfews also (normally) protect protesters, themselves (if followed).

          As a whole, these were not “normal” protests. As a whole, they might be more accurately described as “riots” (and a complete breakdown of social order).

          That’s why a curfew was established.

          Now, if you’re concerned about the predictable result of someone attending that mess (presumably illegally), then have at it.

          1. David Greenwald

            He had a green legal observer hat on. Generally police respect that an observer is not someone to target.

        7. John Hobbs

          Ron try reading this:” Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

        8. Ron Oertel

          Ron try reading this:” Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

          I’m aware of that.

          How might that apply, when a curfew is in effect? I’ve asked this SEVERAL times, but no one seems to want to respond.

          By the way, what is the cost to that great city of Sacramento, as a result of those who don’t think the law applies to them? (That would include police overtime, damage, etc.)

        9. Ron Oertel

          He had a green legal observer hat on. Generally police respect that an observer is not someone to target.

          Casualty of war (and apparently someone ignoring curfew, themselves).

          So now, this guy is also going to sue the city, as a result of his own actions?

          Oh, well. I guess they’d better stock that jury pool, with those who agree with this type of thing. (If they don’t settle, I suppose.)

          Let’s see: Overtime for police, damage, and lawsuits. Terrific.

          Not to mention the injury that the guy suffered, himself.

          Congratulations?

          1. David Greenwald

            “So now, this guy is also going to sue the city, as a result of his own actions?”

            He didn’t shoot himself. For a guy not taking a position, you sure take positions.

        10. Ron Oertel

          Oh – and do we have any “extra points” for spreading COVID?

          But yeah, the world is a “much better place” now, as a result.

          And on a personal level, I feel “so much better” having participated in this conversation.

          Truth be told, I think I’m responding (on my own) with extremists, regarding this overall issue. In the “normal” world, I don’t think this flies.

        11. Ron Oertel

          He didn’t shoot himself.

          Let’s see:  Breaking curfew in a dangerous situation (within the broader context of violent protests/riots), and then not taking ANY responsibility for the predictable results.

           For a guy not taking a position, you sure take positions.

          So do you.

          It’s unfortunate that this has steered away from any conversation regarding what might have been better options (all-around), in this situation. Despite my repeated invitations to do so.

          Although, you did put forth doing “nothing”, in the face of protests that have been devolving into violence, unchecked property damage, and riots.

          Maybe the cops could have asked “extra-nice”, when their initial “invitation to disperse” was ignored? (Which I assume occurred or was understood.)

           

        12. Ron Oertel

          Breaking curfew is not justification for getting shot in the face.

          It’s not a “punishment”.  It’s the result of breaking curfew in a dangerous situation, in which the police were ultimately using force.  (Again, where protests have been devolving repeatedly into violence and damage.)

          It’s similar to a reporter going to a war zone (when forbidden to do so, out of safety concerns), and then “complaining” about the result.

          If force is to be used in such situations, I’d encourge you or others to explain how to do so, without causing unnecessary risk to the police themselves.

          That’s a conversation that should be had. But truth be told, I don’t think you and the others on this page have enough knowledge to do so. Robert might have something of value to say, though the prison environment is much more controlled.

          Truthfully, your “solutions” on a broader level seem to border on non-enforcement of laws.

        13. Ron Oertel

          Truthfully, your “solutions” on a broader level seem to border on non-enforcement of laws.

          Actually, your solutions don’t “border” on that.  They consist of that.

          And if they are arrested, you’re then busy trying to get them out.

        14. John Hobbs

          “I’m aware of that.”

          Then you either don’t believe in the primacy of the US constitution, or you’re being intentionally obtuse.

        15. Ron Oertel

          Tell you what, John.

          Maybe you could explain the constitution to the police, the next time that they are (lawfully) enforcing a curfew. Be sure to tell them that you don’t have to follow their orders, when they’re aiming a rubber-bullet gun at your head (e.g., after warning you to disperse).

          Your argument is not with me. But if I was more mean-spirited, I might enjoy watching the news the evening you try that. (Not really, though.)

        16. John Hobbs

          “Maybe you could explain the constitution to the police”

          As an occasional First Amendment Auditor and long time voter registration activist I have often asserted and explained the Constitution to the police.

          Never been arrested and have been successful in stopping illegal searches and arrests on several occasions. I carry a pocket copy of the US constitution at all times. It is the Bible of our democracy .

        17. Ron Oertel

          That’s good, John.  Seriously.

          But, doubt that it would have “worked” in this situation (e.g., legal enforcement of a curfew). I suspect that the situation was quite chaotic, and that the police were unapprochable, by that point. More likely, you would have been shot with a rubber bullet, as well. Maby worse.

          Did you see the video of that old guy getting shoved to the ground, when failing to cede ground to a wall of police? Yeah, maybe “later” he’ll get “justice”.

      4. Ron Oertel

        Before anyone responds, I have another scenario for your consideration:

        What if, for example, protesters shut down freeways every day for some period of time (knowing that the police won’t use “force”), jumping on cars, possibly robbing and beating people?  (I believe the latter recently occurred regarding a semi-truck driver, who apparently didn’t even know that there was a “protest” ahead of him, on the freeway.)

        Also – remember Reginald Denny (regarding the Rodney King protests)? If I’m not mistaken, some even made “fun” of that poor guy, afterward.

        Then, there’s the danger to protesters themselves.

        How might this be handled, without some type of “force”?

        1. Eric Gelber

          How might this be handled, without some type of “force”?

          Who has suggested that police cannot use “some type of ‘force’”? You seem not to understand the concept of “objectively reasonable force.” The decision to use force is evaluated from the perspective of a reasonable peace officer in the same situation, based on the totality of the circumstances. Among the circumstances is whether the individual poses an imminent threat of injury to the officer or to another person. Shooting someone in the face with a rubber bullet for violating curfew, and who is not  posing a threat of imminent harm to anyone, would seem to be an excessive and objectively unreasonable use of force. That’s not to say the use of a less excessive force would be unreasonable.

        2. Ron Oertel

          You seem not to understand the concept of “objectively reasonable force.”

          Please stop putting words in my mouth.  I don’t like it, and it occurs too often on here.

          Shooting someone in the face with a rubber bullet for violating curfew, and who is not posing a threat of imminent harm to anyone, would seem to be an excessive and objectively unreasonable use of force.

          You’re also making “assumptions” here, though I don’t doubt that’s true.

          However, perhaps this person put themselves in danger from “collateral” damage (due to purposeful violation of the law, combined with surrounding circumstances), and is now crying “foul”.

          If you’re going to choose to violate the law in a dangerous situation, I (personally) don’t have a lot of sympathy for the not-unexpected result. Though I’m glad he didn’t lose an eye.

          I realize others disagree. We’re all entitled to our opinions, and it doesn’t make one “wrong”.

  4. Ron Oertel

    Here’s another one (that I just skimmed through).  No, I”m not “searching” for these, nor am I arriving at any definitive conclusions.  Just reading the news.

    Officers continue to investigate but say video evidence does not show that the woman purposely drove into about 100 people marching Saturday night, Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Summer Gloeckner said Sunday in a statement.

    https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Nurse-punched-after-protesters-say-she-drove-into-15358039.php

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