2 share $250K in Oakland protest suit; sheriff now included in crowd control policy

FILE ART -Tear gas at George Floyd protest 

Oakland police and the Alameda County Sheriff's Office have agreed to ban or severely restrict the use of rubber bullets, bean bags and "less lethal" munitions at demonstrations and pay two protesters $250,000 who were injured during a George Floyd protest two summers ago, the plaintiff's lawyers announced on Thursday. 

The money will be shared by Tosh Sears, who was shot in the hip, and Kierra Brown, who was shot in the calf – both with rubber bullets by sheriff's deputies on June 1, 2020, as they were participating in a protest organized by youth at Oakland Technical High School. 

"Nothing will erase the emotional pain and terror I felt," Sears, a 52-year-old UPS driver said in a statement. "I felt like a target in my own city, at the hands of people who are supposed to protect me. I grew up with family members who were police officers, including my grandfather who was the first Black police officer in Las Vegas. But now I just don’t feel safe around police as a Black man. I’m hoping this settlement is a small part of achieving some real change."

Oakland police have long had a munitions ban at crowded events that only allowed them to fire rubber bullets and bean gabs if there was an "immediate danger of death or great bodily injury," which was first codified in 2003 and then updated in 2013. 

The significance of this settlement, lead plaintiff attorney Rachel Lederman said, is that for the first time, it includes the sheriff's office if deputies are providing mutual aid in Oakland. 

"The sheriff was bringing in weapons that weren't allowed under Oakland's policy and using munitions in the way that OPD prohibits," Lederman said. "This is the first time we have an agreement with the county in terms of use of force and munitions." 

MORE: Oakland police chief apologizes; issues 33 disciplinary actions for using tear gas against protesters

Lederman pointed out that at that protest, Oakland police officers were following the policy that said they couldn't shoot anyone with impact munitions, but "Alameda County came in and shot a whole bunch of people. OPD then said, 'We can't control the mutual aid officers and we need mutual aid.'" 

A spokesman for the sheriff's office did not immediately respond for comment on Tuesday. 

In terms of changes that Oakland must adhere to, the most recent settlement essentially clarifies the city's policies and modernizes definitions of what constitutes a weapon.

"The injunction requires OPD to clarify in its policy and training that the mere fact that an individual is picking up or throwing a chemical agent canister or other object does not automatically justify shooting at them," the plaintiff's attorney R. Michael Flynn said in a statement. "Even if someone does pose a grave danger, the injunction prohibits police from shooting into a crowd, especially when people are running from teargas. Under the settlement agreement and AB48, the police must try de-escalation, and they must give adequate notice and opportunity to leave before resorting to munitions."

As part of the settlement, OPD will also address the situation in which impact munitions are most typically used, in conjunction with teargas. 

The injunction also prohibits OPD and ACSO from using shotgun-fired munitions such as lead-filled "beanbags" in crowds. 

And it extends the extensive restrictions on use of impact munitions and teargas imposed by a state law authored by Lorena Gonzalez to the flashbang-like explosive grenades that both agencies use, and prohibits these from being tossed into crowds, where they can cause hearing loss and chemical burns. 

Both the city and the county agreed that these restrictions will be applicable to all crowd events not only political demonstrations.