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Protesters Sue City Over Curfew Arrests During Riots
By Jorge Casuso
March 2, 2021 -- More than 40 protesters arrested for violating curfews during last May's civil unrest filed a lawsuit last week charging that Santa Monica and other local jurisdictions violated their constitutional rights.
The Superior Court lawsuit -- which also names Beverly Hills, Los Angeles and unincorporated areas of LA County -- alleges the curfews were a “tool of oppression” used to supress criticism of the police.
The curfews were imposed during the demonstrations, riots and looting sprees that broke out in the LA area in the wake of the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
The puurpose of the curfews was "to create a lasting chilling effect on the lawful exercise of speech, stopping individuals from participation in peaceful assembly,” the lawsuit claims.
“Under the guise of action to stop looting, mass arrests were made of people committing no crime but speaking truth to power,” according to the lawsuit.
In addition to constitutional and civil rights violations, the suit alleges the local cities and their police forces engaged in "assault and battery, false imprisonment, negligence and the intentional infliction of emotional distress," according to a report Monday in the Los Angeles Times.
The suit "alleges the municipalities and their police forces used the curfew 'to trap protesters and enact sweeping arrests' without just cause, and did so 'in concert' with one another," the Times reported.
“Boxed-in by officers clad in riot gear and wielding, without limitation, batons, rubber-cased bullets, tear gas, flashbang grenades, and sound cannons, peaceful protesters were attacked, mobbed, and unlawfully detained and arrested,” the lawsuit states.
“The Defendants worked in concert for the correlated suppression of truthful speech.”
Santa Monica City officials did not respond to calls for comment by deadline.
Santa Monica's initial curfew was imposed on May 30 at 8 p.m. and lasted until 5:30 a.m. the following morning in an effort, officials said, to ensure public safety as violent protests spread in the region and across the nation.
The curfew was re-instated after riots broke out on May 31, and they were re instituted for most of the week from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. ("Santa Monica Demonstration Turns Violent, Looters Ransack Stores," June 1, 2020).
More than 400 arrests were made on May 31 and June 1 for looting, violating curfew, burglary and assault, but not after more than 80 businesses -- from banks and chain stores to mom and pop shops -- had been trashed and their shelves cleared but looters and rioters.
On June 8, Santa Monica officials, joining other cities, announced they would not prosecute demonstrators arrested for violating curfews or refusing to disperse during the protests ("Santa Monica Won't Press Charges Against 'Peaceful Protesters' Arrested During Last Week's Unrest," June 8, 2020).
For some three months, demonstrators held regular rallies outside the Public Safety Facility to protest what they said was the use of excessive force by police against peaceful protesters.
In October, the City announced it had hired a consulting firm specializing in law enforcement oversight to investigate SMPD's response to the riots ("City Hires Firm to Probe Police Response to Riots," October 9, 2020).
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