Oscar Grant demonstration Nov. 5, 2010 (Photo: Michael Macor, San Francisco Chronicle)
The city of Oakland and Alameda County owe $1.025 million to protesters they rounded up in 2010 during a demonstration over the shooting of Oscar Grant by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer.
The unarmed Grant was shot in the back in the early hours of January 1, 2009, by a BART police officer, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served seven months in jail. The incident triggered months of protests and criticism of BART officials. The story was made into a movie, Fruitvale Station, which is scheduled for release in July.
Nearly two years later, around 150 people gathered at Oakland City Hall to protest what they considered a light sentence for the BART officer and prepared to head for the Fruitvale Station, where the shooting occurred. The police surrounded the group, arrested them all and stashed them at a county sheriff’s lockup.
Although the usual procedure is to cite protesters for a misdemeanor offense and release them, in this instance they were handcuffed and herded into sheriff’s department buses and held there for hours. The buses lacked bathrooms and it was reportedly not a pretty sight. The demonstrators were put through a lengthy booking process and held overnight, packed into overcrowded county jail cells.
The next day, two of the arrestees were charged and the rest were released without charges.
The National Lawyers Guild filed a class-action lawsuit (pdf) in U.S. District Court in 2011 on their behalf, claiming that the authorities failed to warn the protesters that they should disburse before rounding them up, and that police conduct during the incarceration was a violation of the demonstrators’ civil rights.
The city and county reached a preliminary settlement (pdf) on Monday, which is expected to be finalized in September. Alameda County pays $175,000 and Oakland pays the rest. The settlement also requires that both law enforcement agencies adopt rules for citations and quick release of low-level misdemeanor violators. The court will have oversight of the Oakland Police Department crowd control policy for four to seven years.
The lawsuit is the first in a series filed against Bay Area authorities for mass arrests at rallies, including those conducted by Occupy Oakland. The beleaguered Oakland police department narrowly avoided a federal takeover last November but is under the control of a federal court-appointed “compliance officer” for problems dating back to at least 2003.