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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Emeryville and Oakland Settle Claims Against Their Police

Courthouse News, a Pasadena California based legal news service, reports that a lawsuit against the cities of Emeryville and Oakland was settled on Tuesday. The settlement came immediately on the heels of the federal court's ruling on the parties' motions regarding the various claims in the case, the plaintiff's alleging that the cities' Police were liable for excessive force, false imprisonment, battery, and related claims.

The lawsuit arose out of an incident in which Oakland Police dispatch reported a robbery of a purse containing the victim's iPhone by two African-American women who sprayed the victim with pepper spray and fled in a white Toyota Highlander or Landcruiser SUV with gray trim at the bottom.  The victim described one of the assailants as being in her 20s, wearing a white t-shirt. Emeryville PD officers heard of the crime over their patrol car's radios.
Fred Hampton Jr
Chicago based
community activist & 
Chairman of the 
Prisoners of 
Conscious Committee,
a social justice organization.

Oakland PD was able to track the victim's cell phone location to the vicinity of Christie Ave. and Powell St. in Emeryville, radioing this information out as well. An Emeryville police officer traveling north on Hollis St. saw a light-colored SUV traveling south-bound and observed that the driver was an African-American female wearing a white t-shirt with a black jacket over it.  The Emeryville officer made a U-turn and followed the SUV to the Target parking lot. In doing so, he observed that the SUV was a silver Mitsubishi SUV, not a white Toyota, but reasoned that victims often make mistakes regarding car makes and colors.

The Emeryville Police officer pulled in so as to block the SUV into its parking spot and ordered those in the SUV out. One of the occupants was Fred Hampton, Jr., son of the 1960's era Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, who was shot to death in his sleep in 1969 by Chicago police and FBI agents.  Ultimately up to 15 police vehicles arrived on the scene, some officers with guns drawn, and the four vehicle occupants were handcuffed and detained for up to an hour while the victim was brought to the Target parking lot to see if she could identify any of these individuals as her assailants.  The victim reported that these were not her assailants and while the detention was in progress Oakland Police dispatch reported the iPhone's location now appeared to be on the I-80 heading towards the Bay Bridge.  Nonetheless, the detention continued until the victim was given an opportunity to try to identify the individuals as her attackers.

The Court's order analyzes the facts of the detention in great detail and ultimately concludes that a jury could find that the detention constituted an arrest and that such an arrest would not be supported by probable cause.  Pointing to numerous discrepancies between the facts known before the stop and the facts that became evident after, including that the driver easily appeared in her mid-30s, not twenties, and had a very distinctive and large afro, which a victim likely would have included in any description, the Court was prepared to let several of the plaintiff's claims move forward to a full trial.

The cities avoided that trial by settling the case immediately, on terms not yet provided on the court's docket.  Presumably Emeryville and Oakland paid fairly significant sums over this incident.

1 comment:

  1. I sincerely hope Emeryville and Oakland PD did NOT pay "significant" sums over this incident. At worst, this was a wrongful detainment for an hour. 15 vehicles is excessive and it maybe should have ended when the iphone tracker reported a different location (although I've experienced many times when my Family360 tracker gave incorrect location data), but at worse this calls for some nominal penalty.

    How much $$ and time was spent in arguing and settling this matter? Was it proven that the officers involved were racist or were they being too cautious? I sincerely hope that incidences like this don't lead to not having another officer on the streets when I need one.