WASHINGTON - January 26 -
In a filing today, a team of National Lawyers Guild attorneys asks the federal court to allow a law enforcement misconduct lawsuit against the Oakland Police and Alameda County Sheriff to proceed as a class action. The four named plaintiffs, including one NLG Legal Observer, seek to represent a class of 150 people who were arrested en masse on November 5, 2010, the day that former police officer Johannes Mehserle was sentenced.
The proposed class action, Spalding et al. v. Oakland, No. C11-2867 TEH, challenges the 2010 mass misdemeanor arrests and the prolonged detention of arrestees in the Alameda County Jails. The case is being heard by U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson as a related case to the ongoing proceedings in the lawsuits brought by victims of the “Riders” OPD gang. Earlier this week, in response to the Department’s glacial pace in completing the reform process agreed on in the 2003 Riders settlement, Judge Henderson stripped decision-making power from OPD, placing the Department under greatly increased oversight by monitors and bringing it one step closer to federal receivership. Last week, the monitor expressed particular concern over the OPD response to Occupy Oakland.
“The Spalding case is more important than ever, because OPD and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office are continuing these same abuses with regard to Occupy Oakland,” commented Michael Flynn, San Francisco Bay Area NLG Chapter President. “Over the past month and a half, the OPD has engaged in a campaign of brutal harassment, making repeated arrests of Occupy Oakland protesters on pretexts, and causing them to be held for days, only to be released without charges.”
“California law requires most misdemeanor arrestees to be released with a citation, but in Alameda County, even very minor charges often result in extended periods of time in jail,” explained Rachel Lederman, one of the lead attorneys on the Spalding case. “The Mehserle sentencing demonstrators were herded by police into a residential block and trapped there, along with neighborhood residents. Then they were all detained for 18-24 hours. There was no lawful basis for the mass arrest, and none of the 150 class members were ever charged with a crime.”
“There was never a dispersal order,” said plaintiff Daniel Spalding. “It was a classic illegal mass arrest. We were boxed in by lines of police officers in riot gear who announced, without warning, that we were all under arrest. I told one officer I was a National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer and showed him my identifying green hat but I was still arrested. Over a hundred of us were left sitting on the street, handcuffed, until we were finally put on a bus, where we kept for hours. One arrestee was begging for medical attention for his dislocated shoulder and the police ignored him. Eventually I was put in a jail cell with 27 other people with no place to sleep. I wasn’t released until 6:30pm - almost 24 hours after we were first detained. I was never charged with anything.”
“We were exercising our First Amendment right to protest the light sentence given to Mehserle, and police brutality more generally, by marching to the site of the shooting,” added Katharine Loncke, another named plaintiff, “but the OPD and their army of other police agencies blocked us all in and arrested us for nothing.” Loncke described that, “At the jail, all the women were made to go into a stall without a door on it and urinate into a cup for a pregnancy test. I was held in a very cold and crowded cell with fifteen other women. No food was provided for more than twelve hours after our initial detention. There was no room to lay down. I sat up against a wall for the entire night.”
In addition to monetary compensation for the arrestees, the Spalding lawsuit requests an injunction to stop the OPD from making unlawful arrests and violating its crowd control policy; require the ACSO to promptly release arrestees absent a legitimate, lawful basis to hold them; and, to provide basic humane conditions for those who are held. In November, the NLG and ACLU filed a second lawsuit against OPD challenging the use of force against Occupy Oakland, Campbell et al. v. City of Oakland, Case No. C11-05498 RS.
The NLGSF has provided legal support to progressive activism for decades, including training and sending legal observers to protests and providing pro bono lawyers to defend accused activists. The NLGSF is the Bay Area Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild – a national non-prot legal and political organization of lawyers, legal workers, law students and jailhouse lawyers founded in 1937. We represent progressive political movements, using the law to protect human rights above property interests and to attain social justice.