Judge rejects San Jose’s bid to throw out police brutality lawsuit
San Jose Police Officers stand outside City Hall on May 30 on the second day of George Floyd protests. File photo.

A federal judge is allowing a class action lawsuit to move forward against alleged police brutality at last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.

The suit alleges that the city and SJPD used excessive force  on demonstrators and issued an unconstitutional curfew to suppress their view of anti-police and anti-racism in violation of their First Amendment rights.

In U.S. district judge Phyllis Hamilton’s Sept. 24 decision, she rejected the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and said it could move forward.

The Silicon Valley/San Jose NAACP, nonprofit San Jose Peace and Justice Center and 14 individuals injured in the protests filed the lawsuit in March. The lawsuit claims San Jose police used projectiles—rubber bullets—on crowds without justification and particularly targeted people of color during the Black Lives Matter protests.

“The court’s order reaffirms what we already know to be true: The law does not permit a government to suppress the speech of its own citizens through armed, violent opposition,” said Tifanei Ressl-Moyer, an attorney representing the case. She works at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The class action lawsuit names San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, former City Manager David Sykes, former Police Chief Eddie Garcia and some San Jose police officers as defendants, including Jared Yuen. Yuen was recorded licking his lips while holding his rubber round gun and shouting expletives at protesters on May 29, 2020. The plaintiffs want compensation for their injuries and significant reforms in San Jose police tactics and training, Ressl-Moyer said.

“(This is) not a ruling that reflects on the truth or accuracy of the allegations, nor does it address legal and factual defenses that may be asserted in the case,” city attorney Nora Frimann told San José Spotlight, adding that the city routinely submits motions to dismiss lawsuits early in the process to weed out claims or defendants with no legal basis.

The plaintiffs include San Jose resident Michael Acosta, who lost his left eye after something struck him “violently” in the face. He now uses a prosthetic. Plaintiff Joseph Cañas also suffered from permanent vision loss after being hit in the face with a rubber bullet. Cañas was playing guitar at a protest.

Others were beaten with clubs or shot in the thighs, groins and genital areas, the suit claims.

“Under the law, law enforcement needs to have a very specific reaction to that one specific incident,” Ressl-Moyer said. “And they don’t get to indiscriminately apply violence to everybody in the vicinity, including bystanders, and people who are just passersby and people who were just holding up signs saying ‘we don’t want racist policing in our city.’”

The case will now enter the discovery phase before going to trial, Ressl-Moyer added. A case management conference is scheduled for Oct. 21.

Lloyd Alaban contributed to this report. 

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter. 

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