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Demonstrators sue, accuse San Jose police of excessive force against BLM protest

A police officer presses a baton against a man's neck.
San Jose police hit a protester with a baton during a demonstration over the death of George Floyd on May 29, 2020.
(Associated Pres)

Two Northern California civil rights organizations and demonstrators, including a man who lost his right eye, filed a lawsuit Thursday against the city of San Jose, saying police officers used excessive force against protesters who took to the streets last year following George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis.

The lawsuit filed by NAACP San Jose/Silicon Valley and the San Jose Peace and Justice Center as a class action seeks for everyone who was injured or wrongfully arrested to be compensated and for reforms of the way San Jose police are trained and directed to handle protests, said Rachel Lederman, an attorney with Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which is representing the plaintiffs.

Michael Acosta, 49, said he was returning to his downtown San Jose home from running errands on May 29 when he saw the demonstration and began taking photos and video of what was happening. Within minutes, he was struck on the eye with a projectile.

“I could hear the sounds and people running and shouting and explosions still going on around me, and it was honestly terrifying. I felt helpless and afraid,” Acosta said at a videoconference.

Rachel Davis, a city spokesperson, declined to comment on pending litigation.

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At least 28 people were injured as police tried to break up the crowd of about 1,000 using tear gas, flash-bang grenades, rubber bullets and batons — a heavy-handedness not seen in other protests in the San Francisco Bay Area that drew criticism against the Police Department and then-Police Chief Eddie Garcia.

Seven of those injured filed a separate federal lawsuit in July, including a man who was shot in the groin with a rubber bullet. Derrick Sanderlin, a community activist and onetime police bias trainer who was trying to de-escalate the situation, was hit with a rubber bullet in the groin, the Mercury News reported. The lawsuit alleges Officer Jared Yuen, whose aggressive behavior was caught on videos that were widely viewed online, was the one who injured Sanderlin.

The crowd gathered in downtown San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley, and temporarily shut down a five-lane section of U.S. 101, a major highway, before police started dispersing them.

The LAPD mishandled the unrest that erupted after the death of George Floyd, according to a new report commissioned by the City Council.

Garcia said officers had been targeted by coordinated, violent attacks from agitators who hid inside crowds of peaceful protesters and then turned the streets of downtown into a “war zone.” An officer was taken to a hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening.

Garcia apologized for Yuen’s behavior, calling it unprofessional and saying it wouldn’t be tolerated. The officer was take off street patrol duty.

The Rev. Jeff Moore, the president of the local NAACP, said he was caught in the middle of the clash between police and demonstrators as he tried to ease tensions and was pushed around and gassed by officers.

“It’s been a travesty for the leadership for this city not to step out and do more for those injured, arrested wrongly or defending themselves from the aggressiveness of the police,” Moore said.


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