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News + PoliticsPoliceChiu seeks to demonize young people as part of move to dismiss...

Chiu seeks to demonize young people as part of move to dismiss skateboard case

The disaster of the Dolores Hill Skateboard Bomb continues in federal court.

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San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu is asking a federal judge to dismiss lawsuits against the Police Department over the 2023 Dolores Hill skateboard event where hundreds of young people were arrested and held in what some say was a violation of the departments own policies.

In the court papers, Chiu’s office is seeking to use a Police Department press release as evidence that the kids (most under 18) were at fault, although the facts in the press release are very much in dispute.

City Attorney Davide Chiu (here trying to defend homeless sweeps) is now trying to blame kids for the police actions in the Dolores Skateboard Bomb disaster

In fact, Chiu seeks to blame the people—including those not part of the event—who were surrounded by police, arrested in mass, and held outside in the cold for as much as seven hours without water or bathrooms and with no ability to contact their parents.

It’s a pretty astonishing set of claims, even considering that the city attorney is responsible for defending the SF Police Department against lawsuits.

In many civil rights cases, the city ends up settling. But here, they city is trying to argue that there aren’t even grounds to sue:

On July 8, 2023, Dolores Park in San Francisco was overwhelmed with an underground flash mob gathering referred to as the “Dolores Hill Bomb.” Hundreds of individuals illegally blocked streets and sidewalks on Dolores Street, to enable skateboarders to “bomb” and perform tricks down the steep incline. It was a spectacle of danger, and the battle of stunts created a substantial risk of harm to participants, pedestrians, and residents. … To quell the chaos, police officers were deployed to restore order and detained individuals until peace was reestablished. Plaintiffs J.T. and C.L. were teenagers who participated in the unlawful assembly.

Those allegations are based on the Police Department’s version of the event—which is, to say the least, a matter of dispute.

From the plaintiffs response to the motion:

This case concerns an unprecedented mass arrest of children and youth by the San Francisco Police on July 8, 2023, when police herded, trapped and kettled approximately 81 minors and 32 mostly teenage young adults between police lines, and detained them all outdoors on the street for hours as darkness fell and the temperature dropped. The abusive detention, in which children had no access to bathrooms, water or food for up to seven hours, was apparently for the sole purpose of collecting thumbprints and other identifying information in the hope of matching the arrestees up with property damage by unknown individuals that had occurred at a different time and location. This police dragnet was unconstitutional, and targeted primarily Latinx, Black and other BIPOC youth, who are disproportionately subject to arrest and criminalization. Defendants’ brief is replete with attempts to go outside the bounds of the complaint to interject their own view of the facts and cast the plaintiffs and entire putative class as out of control rioters.

More:

And importantly, they were able to enter the area at any point up until they were kettled. In fact, when the three named plaintiffs were trapped, each had come from different directions at varying times. J.T. was trying to go meet her ride at 17th and Valencia, northeast of the park  C.L. had come from her home south of the park and found her way back blocked by police lines … For example, Plaintiffs allege that C.L. heard a police announcement ordering people to leave “Dolores Street” “between 7:15 and 7:30pm”, which she tried to comply with by going into Dolores Park; then the police announced that the park was closed, but there were no instructions where to go and the way back to C.L.’s home just south of the park was blocked by police. “Suddenly police seemed to be everywhere, and the children were not sure which way to go”. At 8:15 – 8:30pm, C.L. was herded into the police kettle on 17th Street. Clearly, there was not probable cause to arrest her or anyone else for failure to disperse based on the announcement to leave Dolores Street an hour earlier and blocks away, especially given that there was free ingress to the area where the kettle took place, as shown by the allegation that L.R. and her friends came from the opposite direction as most others, yet they too were arrested.

From a separate lawsuit involving a different plaintiff:

Plaintiff was detained outside on the street for upwards of seven (7) hours. He was prevented from speaking with his parents, drinking water, using the bathroom, or even wearing his beanie during those seven (7) hours. Temperatures that night were in the low 50s.  The Defendant Officers never offered any particularized basis for detaining Plaintiff.

Chiu is asking the court to “take notice” of a press release put out of SFPD after the event. The release refers to a “Mission District Riot” and and includes, not surprisingly, a one-sided version of the events. That’s what press releases often do.

But lawyers for the children say that you can’t use a press release as evidence in a lawsuit. A lot of the language in the various pleadings is technical, but here’s the gist:

Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss is replete with their own, highly contested, inflammatory
factual assertions, the only source for which appears to be this San Francisco Police press release
— although the motion often fails to cite any source or miscites the Complaint for matters not
ialleged therein. referring to “underground flash mob”, “hundreds of ndividuals who blocked the city streets and attacked police”, “large packs roving around the neighborhood” who “shot guns”, etc. None of this is alleged in the complaint, which explicitly disputes the Police Department’s narrative.

This whole thing was a disaster. The cops decided they would prevent the annual Dolores Hill Bomb, which is pretty much by definition a spontaneous event without formal organization (like Critical Mass was), except that most of the participants are under 18.

In the process, they wound up arresting a lot of people who were, the lawsuits argue, in the wrong place at the wrong time, or just spectators who did nothing violent or dangerous.

Chiu could acknowledge that the city screwed up here and settle the cases. That’s probably how it will end, anyway.

But no.

“Having already victimized children through the abusive, illegal arrest that is the subject of this lawsuit, it is very disturbing to see the city attorney ratify that police misconduct by vilifying the children with dehumanizing language and false allegations,” Rachel Lederman, an attorney for some of the plaintiffs, told me. “The city would be better served by holding police commanders accountable, and supporting and protecting San Francisco youth and families.”

The hearing will be April 30, at 10:30am, at 450 Golden Gate.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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