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Oakland Police Department Settlement: City May Pay $1 Million To Protesters

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OAKLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT SETTLEMENT
AP

The City of Oakland has agreed to pay approximately $1 million to end a lawsuit filed on behalf of 150 demonstrators alleging police misconduct in their 2010 mass arrest.

The preliminary settlement approved by a federal judge ends the class-action lawsuit filed by the National Lawyers Guild on behalf of 150 people arrested but not charged with a crime during a protest in November 2010. The protest followed the sentencing of former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle for the shooting death of Oscar Grant, which the demonstrators complained was unacceptably light.

During the demonstration, protesters said, police funneled them onto a side street, where officers surrounded them and announced they were under arrest.

"We were never given a warning or a chance to leave," Dan Spalding, a legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild who was present at the march, said in a statement Monday. "We were handcuffed and left sitting on the street and then in buses for a total of about eight hours without access to a bathroom. People urinated in their pants as we sat in the hot, crowded bus."

After the demonstrators were taken off the bus, they were crowded overnight into Alameda County Sheriff's Department temporary holding cells, with neither beds nor blankets. Two of the 152 people were charged. The others were released without charges the following day.

Rachel Lederman, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, told The Huffington Post that the Oakland police actions broke the department's own policy and a California law requiring that suspects arrested for minor offenses be released with a ticket rather than jailed. The police department's crowd control policy, implemented in 2004 following a legal settlement involving the use of concussion grenades and tear gas during a raucous anti-Iraq War protest at the Port of Oakland, says officers must warn people before conducting a mass arrest and allow an opportunity to disperse. Lederman said the police didn't do that before the 2010 arrests.

"This was a perfectly legal demonstration through city streets and there was a predetermined plan by the police that they would not be allowed to march," Lederman said. "As soon as things got difficult for OPD, they threw the rulebook out the window."

The settlement, which was given the okay by federal judge Thelton Henderson earlier this month, was announced by the Lawyer's Guild on Monday and still requires another round approval. It gives the court oversight of the police crowd control policy for four to seven years. That means the police department would have to consult with outside groups, including the Lawyers Guild and the American Civil Liberties Union, to alter the policy on handling large crowds. The court oversaw the policy for a few years after its implementation, but the oversight had since expired.

Lederman said she hopes the settlement will make a difference in how the troubled police force operates. A city-appointed consultant, former LA police chief William Bratton, was recently installed.

"There's been a lack of will by the leadership of OPD to reform," Lederman said. "There's a lack of accountability throughout the department where officers feel they can violate peoples' rights with impunity."

Oakland police referred a HuffPost request for comment to the Oakland City Attorney's office, which did not immediately respond.

The Lawyers Guild continues pressing another lawsuit against Oakland police involving the handling of a large crowd.

The group alleges police used excessive force during violent clashes with Occupy Oakland protesters in late 2011 that left Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen critically injured.

Correction: The article originally misstated Mr. Bratton's title and court's process in the ultimate approval of the lawsuit.

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