Accused Bay Bridge protester sues San Francisco for wrongful arrest

Masoud Barukzai, a retired firefighter and Lauren Tomkins, a Stanford professor, said they were wrongfully detained on the Bay Bridge. Nov. 15, 2023 

One of the 78 people arrested for a protest that blocked traffic on the Bay Bridge during the APEC summit in November has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city of San Francisco for wrongful arrest.

In a federal complaint filed Tuesday, attorneys for Masoud Barukzai of Pleasanton, said the retired firefighter and medical device worker was on his way to San Francisco International Airport for work when he was stuck in the backup caused when a demonstration happened on the Eastern span of the Bay Bridge just before Treasure Island.

His suit states that he did not commit any crime, was not part of the protest and was therefore, wrongfully arrested. 

"However, without justification, Defendants proceeded to arrest him while refusing to inform him of what Mr. Barukzai was being arrested for," the lawsuit states. "Mr. Barukzai missed his flight and spent numerous hours in jail."

He is being represented by high-profile attorneys John Burris, Ben Nissenbaum and James Cook. 

At the time of his arrest, hundreds of protesters were calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and an end to U.S. military support for Israel. The Nov. 16 demonstration was timed to coincide with the APEC Summit and President Biden's visit to San Francisco.

Protesters had driven their cars onto the bridge, stopped and turned off their vehicles, blocking West-Bound traffic on the bridge for several hours.

KTVU interviewed Barukzai that morning, as the CHP led him to the side of the highway with dozens of other people detained. 

He had his hands behind his back and in zip ties. 

Lauren Tompkins, a Stanford physics  professor, who was sitting beside him, also detained, said she had also been wrongfully accused and arrested by the CHP for being part of the protest. 

Tompkins told KTVU she was detained by police after she spoke up when she saw Barukzai and other drivers who got out of their vehicles being arrested. 

Both Tompkins and Barukzai were taken to San Francisco County jail. Tompkins was released and never charged, but Barukzai spent four hours in jail and was charged with unlawful assembly and failure to disperse.

In several interviews with KTVU after the incident, Barukzai said he believed he had been racially and ethnically profiled by San Francisco police and the CHP and arrested because he is an Afghan-American with a beard.

"I didn't have a flag. I never waived anything. I never spoke anything," he recalled.

He said after waiting in his truck, he and many other stranded drivers walked closer to the demonstration. He said they took out their cell phones and captured video of the protest. He said he was curious about the commotion and that the impromptu shutdown of the Bay Bridge seemed historic and worth filming.

Barukzai said his problems began when he returned to his truck. Police came to arrest him, accusing him of being one of the protesters causing the disruption.

"They forcibly removed me from my vehicle. I told them I had nothing to do with it. I'm a law-abiding citizen. Yes, I did step out and walk around like everybody else, that's not illegal," he said at the time. "I want to make sure this does not continue to happen to people who are just being normal, concerned citizens going about their daily lives."

KTVU reached out to the San Francisco City Attorney's Office for comment on the suit, and did not immediately hear back.