Back to News & Commentary

ACLU Sues Oakland Police Department to Stop Violence Against Protesters

Rebecca Farmer,
ACLU of Northern California
Share This Page
November 15, 2011

The Oakland Police Department (OPD) was sued in federal court yesterday by the ACLU of Northern California and the National Lawyers Guild for trampling (repeatedly!) on the constitutional rights of Occupy Oakland demonstrators. The lawsuit asks for an immediate relief from the court to stop police violence against political protesters, because the OPD has shown that it will continue to violate protesters’ rights unless a court intervenes (again).

The case is before U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg, who immediately issued an order requiring the city to respond by 5 p.m. today. The case is only one day old, but OPD already has to start explaining to the Court why it used excessive force against protesters.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is Scott Campbell, a videographer who was shot with a lead ball-filled bag (dubbed “bean bags” — a complete misnomer given the pain and injury they can inflict) while filming police presence during Occupy Oakland on the nights of Nov. 2 and 3. He has filmed repeated cases of excessive force by police.

On two recent occasions (Oct. 25 and Nov. 2) the OPD and cooperating police agencies under their direction indiscriminately shot flash-bang grenades and other projectiles into crowds of Occupy Oakland protesters. These actions clearly violate the Fourth Amendment by subjecting protesters who posed no safety concerns to unnecessary and excessive force, and the First Amendment by interfering with demonstrators’ rights to assemble and demonstrate.

On Oct. 26, the ACLU-NC and NLG sent a public records request seeking information about the OPD’s use of force against Occupy demonstrators, but the department refused to hand over information about its actions.

OPD’s recent conduct violates its own Crowd Control Policy, adopted in the settlement of a lawsuit arising from OPD’s prior mishandling of a large protest in 2003. The policy strictly limits the use of force and prohibits the indiscriminate use of “bean bags” and other projectiles against crowds or peaceful protesters

Excessive police force is never acceptable, especially when it’s in response to political protest. Stay tuned for updates regarding our lawsuit.

Learn more about the right to protest: Sign up for breaking news alerts, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Learn More About the Issues on This Page