New lawsuit claims Sacramento police handle pro-Trump and racial justice protests differently

Nicollette Jones has been organizing and attending protests in Sacramento since 2011. Last summer was the first time she felt the need to wear goggles and a helmet, sometimes adding a bulletproof vest .

“The way the Sac PD police make my town feel like a war zone,” she said at a press conference this month.

Jones is one of six people suing the city of Sacramento, its police department and former chief Daniel Hahn in a civil rights action with the stated aim of “enforcing the rights of Californians protesting the racism, white supremacy and police violence in Sacramento”.

The lawsuit alleges the department’s policies and practices violated the rights of plaintiffs and other Sacramento protesters, “chilling” their right to assemble and protest while using excessive force.

The suit also says the city is handling pro-Trump protests, such as “Stop the Steal” rallies after the 2020 election, differently from the racial justice protests the city is experiencing after the police killing of George Floyd.

San Francisco Bay Area Civil Rights Lawyers Committee, Civil Rights Education & Enforcement Center and Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati filed the suit on behalf of the complainants.

“This is a case about the city of Sacramento and the systematic and impressive efforts of its police department to suppress the speech of ordinary people who use their voices to fight for racial justice, against white supremacy and to put end police brutality against black people,” civil rights attorney Tifanei Ressl-Moyer said.

City of Sacramento spokesman Tim Swanson confirmed that the city has received the complaint and “is reviewing it and determining appropriate next steps.”

Lawsuit alleges police harassment and racist policing

Ressl-Moyer said the lawsuit has developed over a year, with the Lawyers Committee legal team working with community members and grassroots organizations to understand the impact of the police on individuals and the community. of Sacramento at large.

“The Sacramento Police Department has built a reputation over many years – it has used excessive force, surveillance, harassment and arrests to send a message,” she said. “That message is, ‘You are not welcome to voice your opposition to our police power, and especially not in the name of racial justice or black liberation. “”

The lawsuit alleges that police witnessed, without intervening, white supremacists and protesters at weekly demonstrations harassing and assaulting members of the community. Conversely, the lawsuit argues that counter-protesters who were associated with “racial justice, anti-police brutality sentiments” were “targeted … with extreme force and intimidation to stop their First Amendment activity.” “.

She asks for compensation for the plaintiffs but does not mention a specific amount. Sam Lew, senior communications officer for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, said that amount could be decided as the legal process develops.

The lawsuit is also about the city and department working to better understand what makes Sacramento residents feel safe, Pilar Gonzales Morales said at the Jan. 4 news conference. She is part of the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, one of the groups filing the complaint.

The plaintiffs’ interest, she said, was to see a city and community with nondiscriminatory policing, “where people who protest and come together for racial justice causes can feel safe participating in their First Amendment demands instead of being constantly threatened and scared.”

The lawsuit also alleges the city and police violated the Fourteenth Amendment and its promise of equal protection, as evidenced by its response to weekly protests beginning after the 2020 election.

Ressl-Moyer refers to a recent report by the Police Equity Center as evidence of the police department’s race-based policing, which she called unconstitutional.

The 2021 report found that while the department’s use of force decreased from 2014 to 2019, officers were 4.5 times more likely to commit acts of force against black people.

The lawsuit also cites a report released by the city’s Office of Public Safety and Accountability, which assessed the department’s response to the March 4, 2019 protests by Stephon Clark, in which 84 people were arrested in a single day in East Sacramento.

The report’s recommendations called on the department to review its current protest control model, including whether its protest control tactics balance “the demands of public safety with the opportunity to facilitate peaceful protests.”

These unresolved issues led to patchy police responses to protests in 2020, the lawsuit says.

Says police handle protests differently

For weeks after the 2020 presidential election, the State Capitol saw a series of ‘Stop the Steal’ protests, led by Donald Trump supporters who falsely claimed the election results were invalid. . Counter-protests resulted, where white supremacist groups clashed with protesters mostly dressed in all-black clothing without significant police intervention.

Loren Kidd, another protester named in the lawsuit, said the police response to Stop the Steal protesters was different from how they handled protests following the death of George Floyd earlier in 2020.

Kidd said he saw “police officers look the other way when white supremacists, such as the Proud Boys, physically assaulted and used chemical weapons against anti-racism and anti-police protesters, including myself.”

Kidd, who has epilepsy, also alleges the police department violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by disregarding his disability.

Meg White, who is also part of the lawsuit, said her experience as a black woman in Sacramento was that “law enforcement does not protect me or my community or prevent violence.”

She said she was pepper sprayed by police while helping someone get attacked by a Stop the Steal protester.

“To be attacked by the people you pay to keep you safe, who your tax dollars fund, I can’t begin to explain the effects these experiences have had on my life,” she said.

Former police chief Hahn said last January that the department spent more than 7,000 overtime hours and almost a third of his department monitoring weekly Stop the Steal rallies. Hahn said at the time that his department had been consistent in its response to the protests “regardless of the protesters’ beliefs.”

Ressl-Moyer filed a complaint in early December 2021, alleging the city of Sacramento was withholding public records of the police response to the protests.

The suit asks a judge to order the city to release all of the requested records.

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