FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Court Rules Police May Be Liable for Injuries Caused by Less-Than-Lethal Weapons
LOS ANGELES –Occupy protesters point out an overlooked July 11, 2012 ruling that may benefit those injured by Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) at July’s Downtown LA Artwalk.
As reported in the LA Times, federal appeal court decided— two weeks ago Wednesday, the day before the so-called Chalk Walk Melee – police officers may be held liable for injuries caused by pepper balls, and other less-than-lethal weapons, intended to disperse a crowd.
From the LA Times article:
The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals was a setback for police agencies defending themselves against lawsuits arising out of the Occupy movement. Students from UC Davis have sued police for dousing them with pepper spray, and UC Berkeley students have sued campus police for using batons during a protest. Oakland also has been sued by Occupy protesters.
Chalk activists, also known as chalktivists, say that the LAPD injured at least half a dozen young men, mostly minorities, when they allegedly shot indiscriminately into a crowd of peaceful people gathered at the monthly art event.
Occupy Activists say the LAPD pushed one man off the sidewalk, another officers shot him at close range, then that same officer kicked the man’s skateboard into his face as he lay on the ground, two other officers smashed the man’s face into the pavement, and then they violently arrested him.
Participants of Chalk Walk also say the LAPD shot one young man with “foam bullets” at least four times in the torso and officers shot other young men in the face with other projectiles. There are unconfirmed reports of the LAPD using tasers and tear gas as well. Others report the LAPD violently attacked them that night.
Writing for the court, Judge Stephen Reinhardt said police used excessive force. "A reasonable officer would have known that firing projectiles, including pepper balls, in the direction of individuals suspected of, at most, minor crimes, who posed no threat to the officers or others, and who engaged in only passive resistance, was unreasonable," he wrote.
Chalk Walkers say the LAPD started the violence early in the evening around 7:15pm, right after the first arrest for chalking vandalism.
Occupiers report police started using their batons to push the group into each other, into a bolted-down garbage can, a cement planter box, parked cars, and into the street even though participants asked the officers to go to the opposite end of the group to get others to move further south on the sidewalk, so they could safely walk down the sidewalk and out of the way.
“I specifically asked not to be pushed into the street since the LAPD had arrested other occupiers at previous Art Walks for being in the street,” said another Occupier, “But the officer pushed me anyways and once in the street another officer threatened me with arrest for being in the street.”
Protesters say the police laughed when the Occupiers complained about the officers pushing them into the street.
Those present that night said the LAPD used excessive show and use of force throughout the entire evening. They report the LAPD had dispatched about 40 officers, 12 bikes, 5 patrol cars, and 3 motorcycles to shut down Spring Street just south of 5th Street for the first 2 arrests that happened 30 minutes apart.
After that, Occupiers report the LAPD would run in snatch a chalker without warning until about 9pm when some occupiers decided to leave Art Walk to attend a fundraiser for the twelve chalking arrests which occurred prior to Art Walk.
Occupiers maintain that the LAPD gave none of the first 8 arrestees warnings before arresting them on chalk vandalism and they say all of those arrests happened before 9:40pm. Yet, unconfirmed reports say LAPD called in officers from the Olympic Division as early as 8:40pm nearly an hour before anyone but police gathered in the street or before any alleged bottles were thrown.
While some Occupiers played hopscotch with some children, attendees report that the LAPD started pushing people off the sidewalks and into the streets at the intersection of 5th and Spring Streets around 9:30pm where a crowd gathered to look at police in riot gear that had amassed for no apparent reason.
“The LAPD escalated the violence all night long,” says another activist, “All Occupiers remained peaceful throughout the entire night and tried to deescalate the crowd after they witnessed police brutality.”
Witnesses say around 9:38pm, the LAPD officers wrested a small female – who had just drawn a smiling stick figure on cement— to the ground, slamming her face into the pavement and then the LAPD body slammed her brother to ground.
“The police didn’t even warn that girl before tackling her to the ground,” said another activist, “People don’t like to witness that kind of injustice firsthand and some people responded with a lot of emotion.”
Occupiers say none of them threw any objects towards the police.
“We have chalk, they have guns,” states an Occupier, “Who are the violent ones?”
According to the LA Times, Police officers generally cannot be held liable for damages in a civil lawsuit. They lose immunity if it can be shown that their actions violated a "clearly established" constitutional right.
Occupy Activists say the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has already ruled in the favor of chalk as a form of constitutionally protected Freedom of Expression and stated “No reasonable person can think chalk could damage a sidewalk” in MacKinney v. Nielsen 1995.
“We were exercising and enjoying our Freedom of Speech and Assembly,” said yet another activist, “We made it clear to officers these actions were all about our Constitutional Rights.”
A Youtube Video shows the group using the “human mic” – a call-and-response way of communicating that amplifies a message so it can be heard by all near the group – to read California Civil Code 52.1 to at least ten LAPD officers, including Captain Frank who took the lead that night.
Activists say the City of Orlando has already spent $200,000 defending the arrests of an Occupier for chalking. A Federal court ruled the City of Orlando cannot make any further chalking arrests.
The Occupy activists in LA say they would like to help those injured and arrested by LAPD doing during Chalk Walk.
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*PLEASE NOTE: This was written by an individual participant in Occupy LA but it is not an official statement. All official statements have to have consensus from Occupy LA's general assembly.