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Anti-Trump protester’s suit alleges LAPD projectile broke vertebrae at demonstration

LAPD and protesters at close quarters in the street
LAPD officers push counterprotesters away from supporters of then-President Trump during a pro-Trump rally in August.
(Ringo Chiu / Associated Press)

An anti-Trump protester has alleged in a new federal lawsuit that a Los Angeles police officer broke two of his vertebrae by shooting him in the back with a projectile as he was moving other demonstrators away from a police skirmish line in Tujunga in August.

Zeeshan Khan’s complaint, filed last week, alleges Khan had been acting as a peacekeeper to prevent physical clashes between anti-Trump and pro-Trump demonstrators and between rally participants and police, and that he was shot despite representing no threat to the officers.

“He is a gentle giant, and was acting like one,” the complaint states. “He can be seen in photos and on video keeping counter-demonstrators away from pro-Trump demonstrators, de-escalating tension and preventing fights from breaking out.”

Khan’s complaint included a link to online video of the incident that showed Khan — distinct in the crowd given his large size and denim jacket — placing himself between police in riot gear and anti-Trump demonstrators with his arms out to the side and his broad back to the police.

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The Los Angeles Police Department fired projectiles as two groups of protesters clashed in Tujunga Friday afternoon, authorities said.

The video then shows Khan walk slowly away from police to the edge of the street and standing at the street curb, still with his arms out and his back to police, when he appears to be shot in the back by an officer in the middle of the street. The officer appears to be using a projectile shotgun that fires beanbag rounds.

“The video evidence is unmistakable,” Khan’s complaint states. “Mr. Khan immediately collapsed, and had to be helped out of the area because he could not walk on his own.”

In addition to the beanbag rounds, other, 40-millimeter hard-foam projectiles were used by LAPD officers that day.

The complaint alleges that both anti-Trump and pro-Trump demonstrators had been “engaging in similar raucous but constitutionally protected behavior,” but that the LAPD had “turned on the anti-Trump demonstrators” to drive them out of the street with projectiles.

The suit seeks unspecified damages for Khan, and names as defendants the city of L.A., the LAPD, Police Chief Michel Moore and Officer Aaron Green, whom it accuses of firing the projectile.

Capt. Stacy Spell, an LAPD spokesman, said the LAPD is aware of the incident but could not comment on it due to “an ongoing administrative personnel complaint investigation” and the pending litigation.

At the time of the incident, the LAPD said that officers with the Foothill Division were sent to the area of Lowell Avenue and Foothill Boulevard due to clashes between a crowd of about 100 supporters of then-President Trump and about 200 counterprotesters.

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Police said they declared the gathering unlawful after witnessing a counterprotester hit a Trump supporter with a pipe, and then gave an order for everyone to disperse. Police said objects were thrown at officers, which led to them using the projectile rounds to clear the street.

Khan went to a local emergency room that day and the next day was diagnosed with two broken vertebrae and a sprained ankle, his complaint states.

Two more reviews have found glaring problems with the Los Angeles Police Department’s handling of last summer’s mass protests against police brutality.

His lawsuit followed — and cited — recent reviews of the LAPD’s handling of mass protests in the months prior to Khan’s injury that found police officers weren’t properly trained to use the projectile weapons the department issued.

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Khan’s lawsuit came just days before a federal judge in a separate lawsuit over the LAPD’s tactics in handling protests placed new restrictions on the department’s use of certain hard-foam projectiles that have harmed protesters in the last year.

The order led the LAPD to announce an immediate moratorium on projectiles that fire 37-millimeter hard-foam rounds, as well as new restrictions on 40-millimeter rounds.

Neither the LAPD nor the judge put new restrictions on beanbag rounds, but the LAPD did urge officers firing projectile weapons to use extra caution and to try to record on their body cameras the reasons they have for firing such munitions.


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