The day BART police officer Johannes Mehserle was released from jail, a civil rights lawsuit was filed against Oakland police on behalf of the 150 demonstrators arrested during a 2010 protest spawned by Mehserle’s sentence in the Oscar Grant shooting. The lawsuit, filed June 13 in Oakland federal court, claims violation of the First Amendment rights of demonstrators and says police engaged in unreasonable searches and violations of due process rights.
It seeks damages and an injunction that will allow for peaceful assemblies in the future. The lawsuit alleged the police never ordered protesters to disperse and had no basis for the arrests.
Grant was shot in the back by Mehserle at a BART station on New Year’s 2009 while officers were attempting to detain several people. The killing was captured on video and cell phone cameras by numerous BART passengers and posted on the Internet, leading to public outrage over the shooting.
Among the named plaintiffs filing the action were Daniel Spalding, who teaches English as Second Language in San Francisco. He also volunteered as a legal observer the day of the protest for the National Lawyers Guild, which filed the lawsuit. Other members of the suit are Katharine Loncke, an Oakland writer and Danielle Lopez Green, a local student.
The protesters say they were jailed overnight in crowded holding cells without cots or room to lie on the floor. Ultimately, none were ever charged with violation of the law, the suit states.
The lawsuit, filed by the NLG and American Civil Liberties Union, asserts the police violated their own crowd control policy at prior demonstrations stemming from the Grant shooting, including the period after the January 2009 shooting and on July 8, 2010, the day of the Mehserle trial verdict. Mehserle was released from Los Angeles men’s jail Monday, the same day the lawsuit was filed. He served 11 months in jail on an involuntary manslaughter conviction. His trial was moved to southern California due to the intense public feelings and publicity in northern California.
The lawsuit names the City of Oakland and Chief of Police Anthony Batts, individual officers, Alameda County and county Sheriff Gregory Ahern.