Black Lives Matter’s Los Angeles chapter (BLMLA) and other protesters filed a federal lawsuit on Monday against the city of Santa Monica, California, claiming its response to demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd last year violated the constitutional and statutory rights of some demonstrators.
According to the lawsuit: “BLMLA intends to assist, plan, participate in and hold similar events in the future, on its own or in conjunction with others, and fears that the same unlawful police actions in response to protests of institutional racism and police brutality will be repeated absent injunctive and declaratory relief to prohibit the practices, policies, and customs that caused the unlawful action in response to the recent protests.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that the suit “seeks class-action status, accuses the city and the Santa Monica Police Department of using excessive force against protesters, arresting them without justification and subjecting them to inhumane conditions while detained.” According to the outlet, “It also alleges that the department unjustly focused on peaceful protesters while ignoring individuals who were burglarizing stored and committing other crimes nearby, and misused emergency curfew orders to clear the streets of legitimate demonstrators.”
#BlackLivesMatter Protest in Santa Monica breaks into violence as protesters defy disperse and curfew order. Bricks and rocks thrown by Protesters, 1 seen firing hand held illegal fireworks at police who respond with over 100 37 & 40mm less lethal rounds and teargas. @KNX1070 pic.twitter.com/fK9eq5LkVt
— Pete Demetriou (@knxpete) June 1, 2020
A spokesperson for Santa Monica told the Times that the city was reviewing the lawsuit, but did not comment on its allegations.
Lead counsel for the plaintiffs is Carol Sobel, a Santa Monica-based activist litigator who previously spent 20 years as a staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. She currently serves on the board of directors of the National Police Accountability Project, a nonprofit organization connected to the National Lawyers Guild. Sobel also represents BLMLA in a similar class-action lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
The lawsuit claims city-wide curfew orders instituted by the City of Santa Monica on May 31 and June 1, 2020, were “aimed at preventing all political protest at a time when hundreds of peaceful protestors sought to express their opposition to the police violence that resulted in the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville and many other Black and Brown men and women.”
— ERIC BALFOUR (@ERICBALFOUR) May 31, 2020
The document acknowledges that there was unrest in parts of Santa Monica, but alleges that law enforcement’s response was “focused on the protestors, rather than individuals engaged in looting and other criminal activity” that BLMLA says occurred away from the demonstrations.
Absolute Chaos along 4th street in Santa Monica… looting with impunity on both sides of the street. No police in sight. We’ve watched this happen to dozens of stores for 45 minutes now… pic.twitter.com/WOdEhIz3th
— Gadi Schwartz (@GadiNBC) May 31, 2020
Looting in Santa Monica. In broad daylight. Sunday afternoon. Chaos. pic.twitter.com/t6X6zI7NQu
— Perez (@ThePerezHilton) May 31, 2020
BLMLA contends law enforcement officers “indiscriminately” fired less lethal munitions into a group of demonstrators who posed no threat to police, deployed baton strikes, and “imposed unconstitutional conditions of confinement” that put arrestees at increased risk of contracting COVID-19.
BLMLA had sponsored protests in L.A. and Santa Monica and participated in other demonstrations in the region that were organized by allies. The activist group alleges the “Defendants’ actions interfered with BLMLA’s right to assembly and speech.”
The L.A. Times provides more details:
In Santa Monica, where the unrest largely occurred May 31, many boutiques and shops were burglarized. The city counted 178 incidents of nonresidential “looting,” 49 incidents of vandalism, 10 assaults on officers, 18 damaged police cars, 12 arsons, 17 aggravated assaults and nine burglaries associated with the unrest that day, among other crimes.
On Oct. 21, just a few days before she retired, then-Santa Monica Police Chief Cynthia Renaud — also a named defendant in the new case — wrote in a letter to the community that the department had been “resourced and trained to handle protests and riotous activity that might erupt from within that protest,” but were not prepared to deal with a third and simultaneous component: organized criminals.
“Massive groups of extremely organized individuals, who were unassociated with the protests, committing highly mobile, well-coordinated looting at multiple locations throughout the city” had “taxed the Department’s resources in the initial hours of its instigation,” Renaud wrote.
ABC 7 Eyewitness News reported, “The suit also cites a review report prepared for the city by an outside group, the Office of Independent Review, which determined that the SMPD ‘had no adequate plan, if they had any, to interact with peaceful protesters while responding to individuals and groups engaged in unlawful conduct,’ according to BLM-LA.”