Federal judge rules against Oakland police on use of tear gas, rubber bullets during protests

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 1: Protesters run away as police shoot tear gas and flash grenades to disperse the crowd on Broadway near the Oakland Police Department during the fourth day of protests over George Floyd's death by the Minneapolis police in Oaklan

A federal judge has sided with civil rights attorneys representing the Anti Police-Terror Project and other individuals with a temporary restraining order that limits Oakland Police Department use of tear gas and other weapons in protest situations.  

But the order still grants the Oakland police leeway in deciding when to use the controversial methods of crowd control, according to the attorney who wrote Oakland's original tear gas policy. 

The court states police cannot fire tear gas or rubber bullets nor can they toss flash-bang grenades at protesters, unless it is "reasonably necessary" to protect lives or to "prevent imminent destruction" of Oakland City Hall, OPD headquarters or their Eastmont Mall Substation. 

Oakland police deploy tear gas after a youth-led rally for George Floyd. June 1, 2020 (Frank Sosa)

Attorneys Walter Riley, Dan Siegel and National Lawyers Guild - San Francisco Bay Area attorney James Burch were granted the temporary order on behalf of the plaintiffs Thursday in U.S. District Court Northern District of California. The defendants in the case included the City of Oakland, OPD and its interim Chief Susan Manheimer. 

RELATED: Oakland police will now investigate tear gas deployment at protest as criticism mounts

The magistrate, Joseph Spero, ruled flash-bang grenades cannot be fired directly at someone and can only be fired in a safe direction.

"To the fullest extent possible, such use of tear gas or other chemical weapons and flash bang grenades is allowed only after an audible warning of their use has been issued and after sufficient time to comply has been granted," the judge's ruling said. 

The judge also ruled that in situations where mutual aid is brought in to help Oakland police, OPD is to assume the front line positions between mutual aid and demonstrators.

Siegel called the ruling an "important victory for the people of Oakland and the struggle against police terror."

Attorney Jim Chanin, who authored the city's first policy on tear gas, said that this ruling is "quite disappointing." 

The temporary restraining order does not go beyond the existing law, he said. 

In fact, this order allows police to decide what is "reasonable" if they feel that police headquarters or City Hall is under attack. according to Chanin. 

"This leaves the decision up to them," he said, "and we've already seen what happens  when we do that."

The order is effective immediately.