Mothers and fathers, arriving in a panic to the Mission on Saturday night to see their teenage children trapped between police lines and arrested en masse after the Dolores Park hill bomb, swore that San Francisco and its police department would pay for the treatment of their kids.
The parents’ revenge appears to be underway.
Several parents reached by Mission Local in the days after the arrests say they are in contact with civil rights lawyers building a possible case against the city.
Rachel Lederman, a longtime civil rights attorney now with the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, has spoken to some two dozen parents, teenagers and young adults, she said, gathering information about the Saturday hill bomb arrests for a possible civil lawsuit.
“These children were held incommunicado, in the cold, outside, and they didn’t notify parents until right before they were releasing children in the early morning hours,” Lederman said. “The vast majority of the arrests were unlawful, and the conditions in which the kids, in particular, were held are outrageous.”
Several parents are planning to attend Wednesday’s Police Commission hearing and demand an investigation into the treatment of their children after the hill bomb. Police Commissioner Kevin Benedicto said he would ask Police Chief Bill Scott about possible policy violations during the arrests.
“Myself and a lot of commissioners are going to have a lot to ask tomorrow,” he said. “I was very troubled, watching these events unfold.”
On Saturday, 117 people, 83 of them juveniles, were cited for various alleged crimes — the bulk for inciting riot, failure to disperse, and conspiracy after police declared unlawful assembly during the annual Dolores Park hill bomb skateboarding event.
The event is a tradition where skaters and some cyclists from across the Bay Area come into the Mission to “bomb” Dolores Street by going as fast as possible downhill.
SFPD has said that the group was involved in illegal acts, including vandalism and assaults on officers with fireworks and glass bottles. Lederman said the police could not have known that those encircled had committed those acts earlier in the day, and several parents said their children were in transit across the Mission when they were ensnared by police.
“These were unlawful arrests and violated the kids’ Fourth Amendment rights, as well as, potentially, their First Amendment rights to freedom of assembly and association,” she said. “These kids were just swept up for being near the skate event, or even after the skate event wasn’t going on any longer.”
Any potential case is in the earliest, information-gathering phase, Lederman said. She will seek to call a meeting of as many hill bomb parents as possible. If the parents want to sue, and she believes there is a winnable case, her firm will do so, she said.
The parents, for their part, are feeling litigious.
“Oh, yeah,” said a mother named Lisa, asked about her interest in a civil suit. She has been contacted by several private civil rights attorneys, she said, adding that if there is a winnable case, she will likely sue.
“It’s not about the money, I’ll be honest; it’s just that this cannot happen again,” she said.
Thida Pernia, whose 15-year-old son was one of the last released from Mission Station at 3:30 a.m. on Sunday said she, too, had been in touch with lawyers and wanted legal recourse.
“It’s just unbelievable that this happened, that they handled it in the way that they did,” she said, adding that she and her husband have been preoccupied with the treatment of their son for the last few days.
“It’s just not right, these kids sitting on the street asking, ‘Why are we being held? Why are we being arrested?’ without anyone answering them,” she said. “Do we live in the United States still?”
SFPD “need to learn their lesson,” added Cristina Galvan, another hill bomb parent who has been in contact with Lederman and said she, too, is interested in filing a civil suit. “If our kids need to learn their lesson, they need to learn their lesson, too.”
SFPD juvenile policies discourage long detentions, use of police stations
The San Francisco Police Department’s General Order 7.01 outlines the department’s policies for arresting and detaining juveniles.
The order states that the Police Department “shall choose the alternative that least restricts the juvenile’s freedom of movement,” and that officers “should avoid bringing juveniles into any police facility (including district stations).”
Starting before 8:45 p.m. on Saturday, July 8, San Francisco police officers had encircled dozens of teenagers on 17th Street in at least two groups, one between Guerrero and Dolores streets, and another, smaller group between Dolores and Church streets.
They were held on the street for hours, some forced to sit down on the pavement, others zip-tied and forced to stand up against a wall.
“All the kids were shuffling like they had to pee,” said eyewitness Dimitry Yakoushkin, who said he pushed past a handful of officers and stayed with the teenagers, filming their detention. “They were walking back and forth, a couple of kids were crying … their hands were hurting, they were hungry, they hadn’t had water.”
One by one, the teenagers were zip-tied, photographed for mugshots, and loaded onto police vans or Muni buses. Many parents watched as their children were driven two blocks away to the Mission Police Station. The first bus left at 11:19 p.m., two hours after the arrests.
The department’s general order on juveniles also advises that “Members should make reasonable efforts to investigate, facilitate release, or arrange transfer of the juvenile from the field” or other juvenile facilities. It’s unclear why the teenagers were not handed over to their parents at the park.
At the police station, the juveniles waited on the buses for as long as an hour, their hands zip-tied behind their backs. Several said the zip-ties cut off their circulation; some said teenagers urinated themselves on the bus and suffered panic attacks.
The teenagers were taken in small groups from the buses into the police station’s parking lot, before being escorted into the station itself. There, they were held for hours longer, shuffled room to room and processed by different officers filling out paperwork. One by one, they were released to their parents waiting in a throng outside.
The department’s policies explicitly guarantee bathroom facilities, as well as food and drinking water, to detained juveniles. The policies also guarantee the reading of Miranda rights and the immediate notification of parents.
Several parents appear to have quickly received notice of their childrens’ arrests, arriving on the scene in waves starting at 10 p.m. Still, they did not receive their children for several hours.
Others, however, were only notified well into the night.
“I had no idea where he was, I just knew he never made it to his friend’s house,” said Lisa, who said her son was riding a scooter through the Mission when he got caught in the hill bomb encirclement. She learned of the incident on the Citizen app, she said, but received “no call, nothing” from SFPD until 3:30 a.m.
One grandmother, arriving to pick up her grandson just before 4 a.m., said she had just received a call, as she was asleep earlier.
The last child, waiting for his parents, was not released until 4:15 a.m. One of the teenagers, released to a friend’s parent, waited at the police station for his 18-year-old brother, but was informed that his brother was taken elsewhere and would not be released. He wandered home alone through the Mission early that morning.
Parental, teenage anger & fear
Parents uniformly expressed rage at the treatment of their children, saying their kids were scared for their futures and more hateful toward the police.
“He’s in the mad phase right now,” said Lisa, the mother of a 15-year-old. “If anything, they made him into a hater … he’s just a different person now, on how he’s going to think about cops.”
Galvan, the mother of a 16-year-old, added: “If I’m not around, I want to tell my daughter that she can trust the cops, but now she’s not going to trust them.”
She added that her daughter is in a business internship, but is now scared the charges will affect her future. “Those charges are really scary for kids.”
Lederman, for her part, is demanding that “all charges be dropped,” and that the Police Commission investigate the incident. The District Attorney’s Office has said it will treat the arrests on a case-by-case basis to “ensure there is appropriate accountability.”
Yakoushkin, the eyewitness who is also a therapist, said the teenagers he saw on Saturday night, forced to stand for hours against a wall, were exhibiting tell-tale signs of trauma.
“You could write a book on trauma response just by going down and filming and talking to them [that night],” he said. “They were fawning, darting around and running around. There were some that were definitely in fight mode, and some that were completely dissociated and in shock.”
As for the adults, it is unclear if they will join a lawsuit. Those over 18 were taken into vans to 850 Bryant St., the Hall of Justice, on Saturday night. Most of the young adults were cited and released there; one 22-year-old, charged with possessing a concealed firearm, was booked into jail.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the total number of arrested. There were 117 arrested that day, not 113.