San Francisco police officers in riot helmets rushed into and blockaded intersections this evening near Dolores Park to shut down the annual “hill bomb,” where hundreds of people gather to watch skaters and bikers zoom down Dolores Street.
As of 8:45 p.m., SFPD had kettled dozens of skaters and young people, keeping them trapped between rows of armed police officers. As the evening wore on, more than 100 officers took part in the operation and used four buses to take the juvenile offenders away and four vans to transport those over 18.
“Those are just kids!” onlookers shouted at 17th and Guerrero streets, as the dozens of teenagers sat on the street for hours, waiting to be transported a block-and-a-half way to Mission Station. Those over 18 were taken to 850 Bryant St., the Hall of Justice.
The juveniles arrested at the hill bomb were taken to Mission Station and released late into the night, as dozens of parents stood outside the police station to wait for their children. The last child was released at 4:15 a.m.
Those released carried the same three misdemeanor charges: Inciting a riot, conspiracy, and failure to disperse, according to their notice-to-appear slips. They were given court dates later in the month.
In a Sunday morning statement, SFPD said a total of 117 people were arrested — 83 juveniles and 34 adults; witnesses said the adults were largely teenagers.
The hill bomb is an annual event that sees skaters from across the Bay Area come into the Mission to speed down Dolores Street as others watch and cheer them on.
It is not the first year with incident. Last year, a man was stabbed during the hill bomb, and a fight broke out. In 2020, a 23-year-old cyclist was killed after colliding with a skater. And, in 2017, an SFPD officer pushed a skater going downhill into a squad car; the skater sued the city and won $275,000.
Saturday’s operation was a concerted effort to arrest a group that had stayed after dispersal orders were given, according to Sgt. Stephen Benzinger, who was on the scene.
“This was not an attempt to move people and have them disperse,” he said. “This was an attempt to arrest people.”
The group arrested consisted almost entirely of teenagers, according to witnesses, largely ranging from 12 to 18 years old.
Sabir, a 14-year old who was in the group before it was corralled, said the police trapped the teenagers between Dolores and Guerrero streets.
They were “trying to trap us, I ran away, and [an officer] tried to hit me,” he said. “He swung [the baton] at me and said ‘Move!’ and now all of them are under arrest.”
One father, Nick Pernia, was furious at the idea that the teenagers should have simply obeyed police orders. “How many 15-year-olds know what unlawful assembly is and that it would lead to this?” he asked. “None.”
Carmen, a 15-year-old speaking upon her release, said she and two other friends were walking home from the hill bomb when they got caught in the police maneuver.
“We were walking home and genuinely cornered, by two sides of the streets,” she said. “They said, ‘You’re under arrest,’ and sat us down for, like, an hour.”
Carmen, like dozens of others, was held for hours on the street before being loaded onto a bus and processed at Mission Station. She said the night was “dehumanizing”: She was freezing, the police “wouldn’t talk to us,” and the group was “handcuffed tight.”
Girls hyperventilated, she said, and several peed their pants while being kept zip-tied on the bus, awaiting transfer to Mission Station.
“Bad review, zero stars,” she said of her experience. “Would not recommend.”
Police said that officers had been in the area in preparation for the annual hill bomb and witnessed fireworks being set off at 6:15 p.m.
At 7:10 p.m., SFPD said, a police sergeant was spit on by a 16-year-old boy and attempted to arrest him, at which point a 15-year-old girl interfered. The sergeant “was assaulted during the incident and suffered lacerations to his face,” SFPD said, and the two were arrested and charged with assault and violence against an officer on the boy’s part, among other charges, and resisting arrest on the girl’s part.
The alleged attack prompted the police to declare unlawful assembly at 7:15 p.m., SFPD said. The skaters set off fireworks and vandalized Muni buses and trams, according to police. By 8:12 p.m., SFPD officers decided to encircle one particular group that had, SFPD said, vandalized a Muni tram.
“It was decided that a mass arrest of the crowd was to be conducted to stop the ongoing unlawful assembly and destruction of property,” read the police statement. The police recovered several firearms and unused fireworks from the crowd.
“This behavior will not be tolerated in our city and I thank our officers for taking action to hold those accountable who brazenly engaged in reckless and dangerous behavior and violated the law,” Police Chief Bill Scott wrote in the statement.
The bulk of 117 arrested were cited with the same three misdemeanors: inciting a riot, failure to disperse after an unlawful assembly, and conspiracy. Some faced additional charges.
Earlier in the evening
Joe Sciarrillo, a 39-year-old skater who has been to several hill bombing evenings at Dolores Park and watched the scene unfold earlier, wrote in an email that the police were much more aggressive this year — a tactic that “only led to more kids getting angry and shooting fireworks at the cops.”
A reporter with the Mercury News took video of teenagers scattering from officers wearing riot helmets and carrying less-lethal rifles, saying some teenagers threw glass bottles and set off fireworks in the cops’ direction. Other showed police holding intersections and teenagers posting in front of a graffitied Muni tram.
Naomi, a mother who lives on Dolores Street and was waiting for her 15-year-old daughter Carmen, said the police had barricaded the corner of Dolores and 20th streets in the afternoon, preventing most skaters from going down the hill.
After police declared Dolores Park was closed to the general public and threatened arrests, Sciarrillo wrote, the crowd simply moved to Church Street (between 18th and 20th streets) at 7:30 p.m.
He said that Church Street is much riskier because it is narrow, and has an increased slope, but when he left between 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., police were not paying much attention to the activity there. He said he witnessed one young teenage boy flipping head-first from his bike and landing on his back at 18th and Church streets.
Line of riot police shutting down Dolores Hillbomb this year. Officers are walking with riot gear down Dolores Blvd., confronted by some skateboarders. pic.twitter.com/J1GWEGH63O— Aldo Toledo (@aldot29) July 9, 2023
Oliver, a high schooler at Dolores for the hill bomb, said that the police had cleared Dolores Street early in the evening.
“The whole force marched up the street of the hill bomb and then after that they corralled people,” he said.
His friend Luke said that the police were moving corner to corner and that the skaters set off fireworks and “massive mortars” over the officers’ heads.
It is the second time in less than a week that a mainstay Mission event, albeit an illegal one, has been shut down with force by SFPD.
On July 4, shortly after midnight, dozens of officers charged a large crowd that had been setting off fireworks and hosting sideshows earlier in the evening. Officers clad in riot helmets chased people from corner to corner, aiming less-lethal rifles and swinging batons.
The Mission recently got a new police captain, Captain Thomas Harvey, who has been the commanding officer at both events. Harvey is listed as the arresting officer on the juveniles’ charging slips.
It is unclear if the recent operations are the result of that announcement.
9 p.m.: Teenagers kettled
At 9 p.m., a dozen people wait at 17th and Guerrero outside the 500 Club, watching and taking videos of the scene.
In preparation for the mass arrests, officers have removed zip ties from large plastic boxes and loosened them.
By 9:40 p.m., police have begun processing the skaters and spectators for arrest. The teenagers and young adults are taken one-by-one to be zip-tied with their hands behind their backs, photographed, and then loaded onto one of four vans on the scene. At this time, only a handful have been processed.
A 17-year-old, who declines to give his name, says his younger brother, 16, was in the group being arrested. “They surrounded them; they boxed them in,” he says.
The 17-year-old, who had been watching the arrests for an hour, says he is worried for his brother, and hopes the police will call his family to pick him up from the station.
10 p.m.: Moms arrive
At around 10 p.m., a handful of mothers arrive at Guerrero and 17th and ask the officers when they can get their children.
“They said they can’t tell us at all,” says one mother of a 17-year-old, who declines to give a name. The officers tell the group that their children will be held at Mission Station and that they can retrieve them in an hour. “They politely told us not to come all at once,” says the mother, sarcastically.
Juveniles are loaded into a Muni bus at the scene, to be driven less than two blocks away to Mission Station at 17th and Valencia streets. Those over 18 are placed into vans for transport to the Hall of Justice.
Silvina Flores, another mother, says she was en route to pick up her 16-year-old when she got a call from her son: He was being encircled by police.
“My kid was done with the event. I was going to come pick him up,” she says. Her son told her he was “walking down 17th when the police came and boxed everyone in,” she says.
“He says they were just walking down this way and police peeled out and surrounded them in the blink of an eye,” she says. “They didn’t have a chance to explain, ‘My mom’s over there.’”
“There’s no reason to detain them for that; he’s probably terrified,” she adds. “It’s excessive use of force. They’re violating minors’ rights.”
Another mother arriving on the scene, rushes into the line of police screaming for her child. She is restrained, pushed back, and told she can pick up her son at Mission Station.
She soon moves in with the rest of the spectators and parents, attempting to call her son. As the spectators shift, she gives a cry of recognition to another mother on the scene.
“Is your baby here?” she asks. “My baby’s here.”
11 p.m.: Teens loaded onto buses
Parents call their children via FaceTime and cell phones as their kids sit on the ground, waiting to be loaded onto buses. Some argue with the police.
The majority of those arrested are awaiting transport to Mission Station. It is unclear why they were not released to their parents, and several parents angrily asked the police to hand over their children.
Naomi, the mother of Carmen, says her daughter and friends were in the Mission to watch the skating event — but are not skaters themselves.
“She’s a scaredy cat, not a skater,” she said. “I know she didn’t do anything.”
Naomi and her other daughter, Esther, stand by waiting for news from the police. They live nearby on Dolores, and bemoan the use of city resources on the operation.
“How many public resources are we using? We don’t have enough police and we’re out here arresting a bunch of kids?”
“She’s 15, and she’s with her other 15-year-old scaredy-cat friends who also don’t ride skateboards and didn’t do shit,” she adds.
The first bus leaves for Mission Station at 11:19 p.m.
11:30 p.m.: Temperatures drop
Members of the teenage group have sat in the cold for hours now, some wearing little clothing. This reporter sees teenagers wearing crop tops, their stomachs exposed.
Nick Pernia, whose 15-year-old son is in the group being arrested, says his son had just arrived to watch the hill bomb with two friends minutes before the mass arrest.
“They got here around 8:30,” he says, adding that the group did not even arrive in time to catch the event. His son was an “innocent person walking down the street, and all the sudden you’re arrested and detained.”
Pernia is livid with the police, arguing with a sergeant about whether his son can communicate with him.
“Can he use his phone? Is it against the law for my son to use his phone?” he angrily asked the officer, as his wife filmed the encounter. “You’re not answering my question.”
The two, who are from San Mateo, say their son and his friends had attended a quinceañera in South San Francisco before going to watch the hill bomb. Thida Pernia says her son texted her that he was being arrested and she thought it was a joke.
“At first I thought he was joking, I said, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding right?’” she asked him. “He sent us a picture of him on the floor.”
“They came to Dolores to watch a thing that’s been in the world of skateboards for a long time,” Nick Pernia adds. “This is a fucking shame [that] this happens in America.”
Families intermittently argue with police on the scene, saying there is no reason for them to arrest their children and siblings.
“There were dispersal orders for hours,” a sergeant shoots back, raising his voice to the parents. “They could’ve left for hours. That was the time to leave.”
The family members shake their heads.
One mother arrives with water bottles for other waiting family.
Another woman, whose 16-year-old brother is being arrested, says he is a long-time skater who attends the hill bomb every year.
“I was born and raised in the Mission,” she says. “The kids have been skating in the neighborhood longer than I’ve been alive.”
She says it is “ridiculous” that the police aren’t immediately releasing minors to their family.
Her mother eventually joins her, and both wait in the cold.
“This is really excessive,” her mother says.
Midnight: Parents wait, tossing pigskin
As the night wears on, more parents arrive at the corner of 17th and Guerrero to await their children’s arrest and processing. They ask the police for more information and chat amongst themselves, describing how each of their children ended up at Dolores Park that day.
Two family members begin tossing a foam football to pass the time. One mother wraps herself in a blanket. Friends of those arrested skate and bike around, waiting for news; one skates to a taqueria nearby and returns with a burrito. Passers-by ask what is happening.
An onlooker begins shouting at a police officer, yelling “ACAB” and “pigs.”
“Who are you going to kill today?” he taunts the line of officers.
“I appreciate the disrespect, sir, very disrespectful,” answers one of the officers.
“Your entire job is disrespectful,” the man retorts.
Parents laugh. “I can’t,” one mother says, chuckling and turning from the scene.
The sounds of karaoke emerge from the 500 Club on the corner, where patrons have for the last few hours exited the bar to watch the event unfold. Singers inside belch the lyrics of “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes.
“I scream from the top of my lungs: What’s going on?! And I say hey-ey-ey…”
1 a.m.: “Es muy feo”
The waiting parents split up into two groups: Some are at 17th and Guerrero, waiting for the children being held on the street. Others have gone to Mission Station, where busloads of children are slowly being released into the police station — a block over from the arrest site.
Children are unloaded in small groups and escorted, hands zip-tied behind their backs and accompanied by an officer each, into the police station’s parking lot. Some are walked over from the arrest site directly.
Parents try to identify their children, asking officers for more information, which they are reticent to give. One officer, Officer Byrd from Bayview Station, draws particular ire from the assembled parents. His answers to the parents, anxious for news of their children, are short and curt.
One father asks where he can pick up his child. “I told you already,” Byrd responds. Another asks when they’ll be unloaded from the bus. “They get here when they get here.”
Passers-by denounce the operation.
“Es muy feo,” one says. It’s very ugly. “Son niños, son niños.” They’re kids, they’re kids.
“Why are they treating them like criminals?” one mother asks, watching the children waiting on the bus.
“According to them,” answers another mother, indicating the police, “they are.”
2-4 a.m.: Children released
In the early morning hours, as a light drizzle starts to come down, the children are slowly released one-by-one from the Mission Station’s front doors. They come out with white slips listing their misdemeanor charges: 409 PC failure to disperse, 404.6 (a) PC inciting a riot, and 182 (a) (1) PC conspiracy.
Those who exit the station carry their belongings in oversized manila envelopes, embracing family and friends before leaving.
Carmen and her two friends hug and pose for photos taken by their parents. They kiss goodbye and say they need to get together tomorrow, to recount what occurred. Their parents shuffle them off.
Other parents wait for hours in the cold. One mother has a baby wrapped up in a blanket; another father has his own baby resting on his shoulder, also covered.
At the Valencia Room across the street, two fights break out over the span of a half-hour. The parents bang on the walls of the police station for an officer to respond, and an officer sticks his head out, saying he will call someone.
No officer goes to the bar. A woman screams and rushes to hit another woman; both are held back by friends. She throws her shoes at onlookers.
A short while later, a man is knocked out cold by another man and drops to the ground. After spending the better part of a minute unconscious, with cars driving around his idle body, he is helped up by other bar patrons, and stumbles away, dazed. Neither the bar’s security nor the police respond to either encounter.
“Can someone do something?” shouts one of the mothers. Several parents remark on the fact that the station is filled with officers processing their children, but none are available to respond to the violence occurring across the street.
Jason, the father of a 12-year-old son who was earlier released to him, stands waiting for his son’s 13-year-old friend. His son is asleep, waiting for his friend in the back of a pick-up truck parked within eyesight.
At 3:30 a.m., Flores, the mother of a 16-year-old, has received her son. He says he was the 98th person arrested. “We’re gonna start a business for you called 98,” his mother jokes.
Another groups of teenagers are not so lucky: Their friend is at 850 Bryant and will not be released. They pace angrily wondering what to do and call the friend’s parents; one begins crying.
Several parents say they will seek to file civil rights suits against the Police Department. Flores, clad in her UPS jacket, says she will call her union for legal advice as soon as the work week starts.
“I’m calling the Teamsters on Monday,” she says.
The son of Nick and Thida Pernia is one of the last to leave. He exits the station and hugs his parents. He then reveals a small cut on his hand, received when an officer removed his restraints, he said.
He recounts the night: The group was kept on the street for hours. They repeatedly asked officers to use the bathroom, to no success. One woman living in a house overlooking the kettled group even threw down a bucket, he says, and the boys started using that.
His zip ties were too tight throughout and his circulation was cut off, he says, resulting in swollen hands. “I couldn’t feel my fingers.”
After moving the teenagers from the buses, the officers kept them in a room outside “in the cold,” he says, for another 30 minutes before they could enter the station itself. “My shoulder blade was on fire.”
And he was told by an officer that the reason for their arrest was unpermitted skating.
“He said that unless you’re in a skate park, skateboarding is against the law in San Francisco.”
One of the teens, released earlier by SFPD, returns to the station, saying he is waiting for his brother. Informed that his 18-year-old brother is being held at 850 Bryant and will not be released, the boy looks dejected and confused. He wanders off, shortly after 4 a.m., walking home alone through the Mission.
Additional reporting by Lydia Chavez.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the total number of arrested. There were 117 arrested that day, not 113.