Federal court rejects San Jose’s motion to dismiss police brutality lawsuit

Bay Area

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — Recently, a California federal court has rejected the city of San Jose’s attempt to dismiss a police brutality lawsuit against the city, its police, and government officials. 

Following George Floyd’s death in May 2020, demonstrators took to the streets and in downtown San Jose multiple incidents were reported by demonstrators complaining about how SJPD handled the protests. 

Last Friday, Judge Phyllis Hamilton with the United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied the city’s motion to dismiss a federal civil rights class-action lawsuit and supports claims that the San Jose Police used unlawful force and violated First Amendment rights during the May 2020 protests. 

“This is a lawsuit that came out of the uprising from last summer and the violence that the city of San José, its police department, and public officials exacted on its own residents,” said Tifanei Ressi-Moyer, Thurgood Marshall Fellow at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and one of the representing attorneys on the case. 

“People experienced pretty significant injuries that they’re still living with and trying to navigate today.”

The complaint alleges that San Jose police shot “highly dangerous impact munitions into the crowd without justification, even when demonstrators kneeled and prayed, stood peacefully with their hands up, or stepped back in compliance with police orders.” 

Additionally, the complaint alleges people of color were particularly targeted, numerous non violent demonstrators were shot in the groin or the head, many were shot repeatedly, and others were beaten with clubs.  

The complaint also alleges people of color were particularly targeted as numerous non-violent demonstrators were shot in the groin or the head, many shot repeatedly, and others beaten with clubs.  

Consequently, the court rejected the city’s arguments that it could not be sued for excessive force despite reports of officers shooting at protesters who were kneeling, praying, or attempting to flee. 

“The city of San Jose attempted to dismiss the entire case before we even got to the meat, the facts of what the people were complaining of,” said Ressi-Moyer.

“And the judge said, listen, if these allegations are true, it very well could be a violation of multiple constitutional laws, as well as state laws that prohibit discrimination,” Ressi-Moyer added. 

“That’s what this order means, that the judge believes that there are sufficient allegations to move forward.”

One plaintiff M. Michael Acosta claims he was simply trying to walk when police shot him in the face with a munition, consequently destroying his eye and having it surgically removed. 

Another plaintiff, Joseph Cañas, says he was playing the guitar when he, too, was shot in the eye, and suffered permanent vision impairment. 

“In the order, the judge makes very clear that the level of violence that the law enforcement used indicates that they were intending to suppress the speech of people who were protesting against police violence and against racism,” said Ressi-Moyer. 

“I think that indicates for a lot of police departments that they don’t just get to do whatever they feel, they too have to abide by constitutional law, they too have to respect that people have a right to oppose the violent tactics they use on everyday citizens.”

The class-action civil rights lawsuit was filed back in March against the city on behalf of the NAACP of San Jose/Silicon Valley, the San Jose Peace and Justice Center, and 12 individual demonstrators and observers who took part in the May 2020 protests. 

According to the law office, Judge Hamilton noted that the allegations about police brutality alone, in light of the anti-police message of demonstrators, was enough to support the demonstrators’ constitutional claims during the early stages of the case. 

“Last year, San Jose residents were shot with impact munitions, sprayed with teargas and other chemicals, and attacked by militarized law enforcement for exercising their First Amendment rights to protest the murder of George Floyd and police brutality against Black people,” said Rev. Jethroe Moore of the NAACP of San Jose/Silicon Valley. 

“That the city of San Jose attempted to end our case demonstrates their absolute refusal to take accountability for the egregious harm San Jose police inflicted  — and continues to inflict — on our communities.” 

The city of San Jose told KRON4 News it cannot provide a comment on pending litigation.

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