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Council Takes Up Lawsuits Stemming from 2020 Riots

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By Jorge Casuso

June 13, 2023 -- The City Council on Tuesday took up four lawsuits -- including a federal case filed by Black Lives Matter (BLM) -- claiming the City violated the rights of protestors during the May 31, 2020 riots in Santa Monica.

The class action lawsuit filed two years ago by BLM and three individual plaintiffs claims the City and former police Chief Cynthia Renaud violated the protestors' federal and state constitutional and statutory rights, causing pain and suffering.

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The Police Department, along with law enforcement agencies that provided mutual aid, also engaged in false arrest, assault and battery, the lawsuit alleges.

Filed in U.S. District Court by the law firms of Erin Darling and Carol A. Sobel, the lawsuit accuses the City of "preemptively banning peaceful assemblies, kettling the demonstrators (and) subjecting them to unlawful force."

Instead of focusing on looting and vandalism, the City tried to prevent peaceful protests by instituting curfew orders that were used as reason for arrest, according to the lawsuit, which also names as defendants ten "agents, servants or employees" of the City and Police Department.

"SMPD ended the protests through the use of force (batons and 'rubber bullets') and imposed unconstitutional conditions of confinement on arrestees by holding them on buses for many hours, tightly handcuffed with zip ties, without access to bathroom facilities, food, or water.

"On the buses, arrestees were seated inches apart, with the windows closed and with no ventilation, compounding the potential exposure to COVID-19.

"When officers went to remove the zip ties, they lacked the necessary equipment to do so and so resulted (sic) to using knives and other sharp instruments to cut the restraints, injuring many arrestees in the process," the lawsuit filed June 28, 2021 claims.

Most of the protestors arrested were taken to Santa Monica Airport, where they were processed, cited and released, according to the lawsuit.

"As a result, the arrests failed the most basic constitutional protections: there was no way to track which officer arrested which plaintiff, where and why. Ultimately, all or almost all arrestees were released on a misdemeanor charge of violating a City Municipal Code provision."

The BLM case was one of four lawsuits the Council was scheduled to take up in closed session related to the May 31 riots that resulted in widespread looting Downtown and some 400 arrests ("More Than 150 Santa Monica Businesses Report 'Significant Damage' from Sunday's Violence," June 2, 2020).

The other existing litigation was filed by Catrice Clemons; by Alejandro Garcia and additional plaintiffs, and by Cheyanne Robinson and additional plaintiffs, according to the Council's closed session agenda.

The Black lives class action suit names three plaintiffs -- David Brown, who according to the lawsuit "has lived in Santa Monica for more than 40 years;" David Clennon, a Santa Monica resident, and Kerry Hogan, "who attended the protest with her husband."

David Brown arrested by Santa Monica police
David Brown arrested by Santa Monica police (Photo from BLM lawsuit)

Some of the protestors, like plaintiff Clennon, "were arrested while walking home alone, holding the sign they brought to the protest.

Others, such as plaintiff Hogan, were struck with projectiles "indiscriminately shot into groups of protestors when they presented no serious threat of harm to the police or anyone else" and "were not violently resisting arrest.

"Still others, like plaintiff Brown, were targeted for arrest, plucked from a group of peaceful protestors, transported to the makeshift 'jail,' and released in the City of Los Angeles and warned they would be rearrested if they came back to Santa Monica."

The BLM lawsuit seeks "a preliminary and permanent injunction restraining Defendants from engaging in the unlawful and unconstitutional actions detailed" in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also seeks "an order directing that all arrest records be removed from all criminal databases" and general and compensatory damages as well as statutory damages, "for Plaintiffs and the class they represent."

In addition, it seeks an award of attorneys’ fees, costs of the suit and "pre- and post-judgment interest as permitted by law."

The Council took up the four cases less than two months after voting to pay $122.5 million to settle the remaining lawsuits filed by 131 plaintiffs who claim a former City employee sexually abused them when they were children and teens two to three decades ago ("EXTRA -- Council Votes to Settle Remaining Sexual Abuse Cases for $122.5 Million," April 25, 2023).

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