A federal class-action lawsuit accusing the San Jose Police Department (“SJPD”) of using excessive force against Black Lives Matter activists during 2020 protests is moving forward after a federal judge refused a motion to dismiss the case on September 24, 2021.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton “affirms what we already know to be true,” said Tifanei Ressi-Moyer, an attorney with the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which is representing the class of plaintiffs. “The law does not permit the government to suppress the speech of its own citizens through armed, violent opposition.”
Plaintiffs in the suit include Joseph Cañas, 25, who was playing his guitar and harmonica for Black Lives Matter protestors in downtown San Jose on May 29, 2020—days after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police—when he was struck in the eye by a rubber bullet fired by SJPD officers. He suffered permanent vision loss.
Another plaintiff, 49-year-old Michael Acosta, lost his left eye the same day after being struck “violently” in the face by something. He wasn’t even protesting but rather passing through the area on an errand. He now uses a prosthetic. Other plaintiffs accuse SJPD officers of unjustly beating them with clubs and shooting them with rubber bullets during the protests.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo (D) is named a defendant in the suit, along with former City Manager David Sykes, former SJPD Chief Eddie Garcia, and several of his officers. Jared Yuen was filmed shouting expletives over his rubber-round gun at protestors.
Ressi-Moyer said the plaintiffs want compensation and significant reform in SJPD training and tactics.
“Under the law, law enforcement needs to have a very specific reaction to that one specific incident,” she said. “And they don’t get to indiscriminately apply violence to everybody in the vicinity, including bystanders, and people who are just passersby and people who were just holding up signs saying ‘we don’t want racist policing in our city.’”
The case now heads to discovery on its way to an eventual trial.
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