San Diego city, county sued by anti-Trump protestors

San Diego city, county sued by anti-Trump protestors

A federal lawsuit has been filed against the city and county of San Diego saying their law enforcement agencies wrongly arrested and detained protesters at a rally last year for presidential candidate Donald Trump, violating their 1st Amendment rights.

The complaint in the U.S. District Court in San Diego against police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, Sheriff Bill Gore, and the city and county governments and law enforcement officers working contends they “suppressed the freedom of speech of Plaintiffs and other members of the public who had committed no crime” when they protested outside of a May 27, 2016, rally at the downtown convention center.

Ten people are named as plaintiffs and they are represented by attorney Bryan Pease, who was among the protesters arrested.

“Unless they are actually posing some kind of threat or unlawful or violent activity, you can’t arrest people just for being there,” said Pease, currently a candidate for San Diego City Council.

The Sheriff’s Department referred questions to the county which, in turn, declined to comment on the litigation. The San Diego City Attorney’s Office said it was conferring with clients and did not comment.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages. It also asks the court to require the city and the county to destroy records of the plaintiff’s arrest, and to tell the plaintiffs what, if any, entities and agencies that information about their arrest was shared with, and to collect and then destroy all records that were shared.

Pease, who is not a plaintiff, said the lawsuit was filed more than a year after the arrests because of time-consuming legal processes and for a statute of limitations to pass so that the government could not charge his clients with a crime to retaliate for their lawsuit.

Trump’s rally drew thousands of supporters and protesters to downtown, as well as hundreds of police officers who were prepared to control a riot. While there were small fights and vulgar exchanges between the candidate’s allies and detractors, there was no widespread violence.

At one point, officers drove the crowds from the area. Police declared an unlawful assembly at about 4:40 p.m., and told people in both English and Spanish that they needed to leave the area.

police officers can declare an unlawful assembly in some circumstances, but protesters still have rights, Pease said.

“That doesn’t mean that any time two individuals do something wrong that you can suspend 1st Amendment rights for an indefinite period in an indefinite area,” he said.

As police tried to control the crowd, some protesters, including Pease and the plaintiffs, headed down Harbor Drive toward Barrio Logan. Pease said he used a megaphone to tell officers that they were violating their 1st Amendment rights before he was tackled.

“Police had a very heavy-handed response that was overwhelming and out of proportion to any threat,” he said.

Zimmerman had said that officers effectively responded to the crowds.

“We came in very quickly and decisively," Zimmerman said the day of the rally. "The last thing we want is a mob mentality."

Police arrested 35 people that day, and 18 people received medical attention. Law enforcement set up “free speech zones” outside of the convention center, and had crowd control measures and barriers in place that helped keep the rally’s attendees from crossing paths with protesters.

About 10,000 people attended Trump’s speech, his first stop in the San Diego area during his campaign. By the time he arrived he was already the presumptive Republican nominee for president. He, as well as his running mate, Mike Pence, made later appearances in the county for fundraisers, but those whistlestops drew just a handful of supporters and protesters outside the events.

Twitter: @jptstewart

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