Immigrant advocates allege excessive force during Murrieta protests

One year after anti-immigration protests erupted in the city of Murrieta, two immigrant advocates who were arrested during the demonstrations have sued the city and Riverside County, alleging unlawful detention and excessive use of force.

Pouyan Bokaei, 33, and Salvador Alejandro Chavez, 23, both of Los Angeles, say they suffered injuries after being arrested at a July 4, 2014, demonstration in Murrieta. 

They had gone to Murrieta to show their support for immigrants several days after protesters turned back busloads of women and children who had come to the U.S. illegally from Central America. The immigrants were being transferred by federal authorities to a Border Patrol processing facility.

Gerald Singleton, an attorney for the men who were arrested, said Murrieta police officers unfairly targeted those who showed their support for the immigrants at the rally.

"You have officers who let their personal feelings get in the way of doing their job," Singleton said.

Tony Conrad, a spokesman for the Murrieta Police Department, said his department could not comment on ongoing litigation. Jeff Morris, assistant city attorney for Murrieta, said he wasn't aware of the lawsuit and couldn't comment.

Bokaei and Chavez were among five pro-immigrant activists who were arrested during the demonstrations, in which protesters from either side hurled insults at each other and, according to some reports, got into a few minor physical altercations.

The pair was initially charged with interfering with police as officers made arrests, but the charges were later dropped.

In the lawsuit, Bokaei and Chavez say that police had no probable cause to arrest them and that officers used unnecessary force.

Video of the incident filmed by a fellow protester and provided to The Times shows a police officer pushing Bokaei into the dirt and handcuffing his hands behind his back. Moments later, with Bokaei subdued and lying still, the officer returns and presses his knee forcefully into Bokaei's upper back.

According to the lawsuit, three of Bokaei's ribs were broken.

The lawsuit also describes rough treatment of Chavez, resulting in a cut on his leg that later became badly infected after Chavez was denied medical treatment while spending the night in jail.

"All together, these young men paid far too high a price for exercising their First Amendment rights," the lawsuit said.

Twitter: @katelinthicum

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
57°