Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies block off a section of Imperial Highway in front of the South Los Angeles Sheriff Station on Sept. 9, 2020 during a protest condemning the sheriffs’ killing of Dijon Kizzee and the department’s use of force against protesters. Photo by Jintak Han.
Just because law enforcement refers to something as “non-lethal” or “less-lethal” doesn’t mean it can’t cause serious injury. Plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit have filed for a restraining order to limit the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s use of rubber bullets, tear gas and other “less-lethal” devices.
According to the Los Angeles Times, this application for a restraining order is connected to a class-action lawsuit in which 13 plaintiffs accuse law enforcement of aggressively using less-lethal methods to break up protests. That claim, filed on Aug. 27, alleges both the Los Angeles Police Department and the LASD have demonstrated that the First Amendment will “not stop the law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County from unleashing rough, indiscriminate violence and dangerous, retaliatory abuses of the powers vested in them, when they are so inclined,” particularly when people are protesting that exact thing.
The claim points to both the use of less-lethal munitions, as well as detaining handcuffed protesters on packed buses during a pandemic. You can read a copy, obtained by Southern California Public Radio, here.
A memorandum filed with the petition for a restraining order further alleges that LASD deputies have been “deliberately using less-lethal munitions and chemical agents in an indiscriminate and retaliatory fashion against people engaged in lawful activities, including journalists and legal observers” in recent protests over the shooting deaths of Dijon Kizzee in Westmont and Anthony McClain in Pasadena. Claims include deputies firing pepperballs into crowds; a woman who says she was shot in the ankle, back, and leg several times with stringer grenades and rubber bullets; and a man who claims deputies slashed his tires.
The memorandum also accuses the department of using force without first issuing dispersal orders or any kind of warning.
The petition calls for the department to notify protesters if an unlawful assembly is declared and to not use projectiles to make dispersal happen unless responding to an urgent threat to safety.
The Sheriff’s Department responded with a statement via spokesman Lt. John Satterfield, who said that every use of less-lethal munitions is “guided by strict policy and procedure, in addition to current state and federal law,” adding that each incident is documented, investigated and reviewed. The department decided not to comment further, citing the pending lawsuit.
Law enforcement’s use of less-lethal munitions has been under scrutiny since protests first began in late May and early July over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. In July, the LAPD released body camera footage that showed officers hitting a man in the head with a less-lethal projectile. He was later treated for head injuries at a hospital. In that same video, a woman with her hands up is also struck. She told Los Angeleno the foam round broke her nose.
Among the class action suit’s plaintiffs are Matthew Neilsen, a 19-year-old man who alleges he was shot with rubber bullets and teargassed on May 30 in Fairfax; Christian Monroe, who alleges a deputy grabbed his genitals and tore off his face mask during a wrongful arrest at Grand Park on June 3; and Shakeer Rahman, who says an LASD deputy hit or shot him in the head with a tear gas grenade on June 21 as he protested the death of Andres Guardado. “As he ran, he felt a searing pain in his throat with every breath. He was uncontrollably coughing and spitting,” the suit reads.