While the San Francisco Police Department has repeatedly defended its actions in cracking down on a crowd of young people and arresting 117 at Saturday’s skateboarding hill bomb, several parents said their children were walking home or riding scooters through the area when the police trapped them between lines of officers.
Several teenagers said they were injured by the police: Struck with batons, pelted with rifle-shot bean-bags, or cut by their restraints. The Police Department said an officer’s cut to the forehead instigated the call to disperse. Teenagers also set off fireworks and threw glass bottles at the officers.
Disgruntled parents said their children ran into various lines of officers in the blocks surrounding the park, told to move one way and then the next by police. Eventually, they had no further escape routes and were kettled in the middle of a block.
“My son said that [the police] said, ‘Go that way, go this way,’ and pointed, but it was straight into the cops that were coming,” said Lisa, the mother of a 15-year-old boy who said her son was riding a scooter across the Mission to get to a friend’s house when he was caught in the melee.
She provided screenshots showing her son’s scooter route through the area at the time the police kettled the children, saying he was not there to hear the earlier dispersal orders.
“It was complete entrapment,” she said, adding that her son has been “numb” in the days after.
“He’s just a different person now, on how he’s going to think about cops.”
Cristina Galvan said her 16-year old daughter, Giselle, was in the Mission with a friend to watch the hill bomb and grab a bite to eat.
As they tried to leave the area, the pair ran into police at every turn, she said.
“They’re saying that they told the kids to leave, but my daughter said she was trapped, that everywhere she went, there were already cops,” Galvan said. Her daughter, she said, is “a little traumatized.”
Several parents said the same Saturday night: Their children were walking home, or on their way to another part of the city, when they came upon a group of skaters being corralled by the police, and were, in short order, corralled themselves.
The triggering incident
The hill bomb is an annual loosely-organized tradition where skaters “bomb” Dolores Street by going as fast as possible downhill. The event has lead to serious injury and one death, and police have in the past also responded in force.
On Saturday, officers declared several unlawful assemblies in the blocks around Dolores Park before the arrests, moving corner to corner and charging to clear an intersection before moving onto the next.
The operation scattered the crowds across several blocks surrounding the park, leaving groups of teenagers, some dozens strong, spread out over a wide area.
Those on one side of the park, or down one street, may not have heard the dispersal orders. Others may have stumbled upon the group transiting elsewhere, as several parents and teenagers said.
All of those arrested Saturday were cited with inciting a riot, unlawful assembly, and conspiracy. The juveniles were released to their parents after hours-long processing times; the last child was released at 4:15 a.m. Sunday.
In the SFPD version of Saturday night, the department refers to the teenage crowd as a “riot.” Several firearms were recovered, the department said. One 22-year-old man was booked that night for carrying a concealed firearm in a car, according to jail booking logs.
The Police Department pointed to documented vandalism of a Muni light rail vehicle in the hours before the arrests, as well as fireworks and glass bottles launched at the officers, to justify the operation. The vandalism of the J-Church train, however, occurred after officers had moved on the crowd of skaters on Dolores Street — and, according to witnesses, in response to police actions.
It is unclear, however, how many of those arrested were involved in the vandalism or assaults.
Police sergeant ‘lacerations,’ a cut to forehead
Police reported that a sergeant attempting an arrest “suffered lacerations to the face,” prompting a full-court press by officers in riot gear against the teenage skaters.
Pictures of the sergeant shared on social media Monday by the San Francisco police union show an inch-long gash to the left side of the man’s forehead, allegedly caused by a blade.
The sergeant was attempting to arrest a 16-year-old boy who allegedly spit at him, according to the police. A 15-year-old girl then allegedly attempted to stop the arrest, and the sergeant was cut in the altercation. Both teenagers were arrested.
The officer was taken to the hospital, police said. It was unclear whether he was wearing a helmet or what treatment, if any, he received for the cut.
The San Francisco Police Department declined to comment and did not clarify whether a weapon was found at the scene.
Several children were, themselves, injured by the police. Teenagers who broke through the lines of officers barricading the group were hit with batons, according to the teenagers and their parents. One teen was seemingly hit with a bean bag from a police rifle, lifting his shirt to show a witness an orange-and-purple bruise on his chest.
“He had a huge bruise on his chest,” said Dimitry Yakoushkin, who filmed the detention of the teenagers for hours. “It was already nasty and swollen, it was orange and purple, it looked pretty recent.”
At 3:30 a.m. on Sunday, a 15-year-old boy exited the Mission police station and showed this reporter a small, bleeding cut on his hand, received when an officer zip-tied him, he said.
When he asked an officer to loosen his restraints, the officer responded, “I’m not going to help,” the teen said.
Of 117 arrested, 83 were juveniles
A total of 117 people, including 83 juveniles, were arrested Saturday, most of them encircled by police officers purposefully attempting a mass arrest. They were held for hours outside in the cold, forced to sit on the pavement or stand up against building walls.
The District Attorney’s Office said that each case would be investigated to “ensure there is appropriate accountability.”
Those arrested described the night as traumatic. The bulk of those kettled by police were teenagers. Many went without food or water for hours, urinated on themselves, and hyperventilated in panic, those arrested said.
The Police Department said it followed all procedures for dealing with juveniles, which notes that only in extraordinary circumstances should juveniles not be released from the field. On Saturday, starting at 10 p.m. and for several hours, parents demanded immediate release of their children but were refused.
The hill bomb police operation has prompted condemnation from several city officials and political groups, complaining about an excessive use of police force and resources from an understaffed police force. The crackdown elicited silence or praise from others, including Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the area.
Several parents said they have contacted Supervisor Mandelman but received no response. Mandelman has not responded to requests for comment.
Supervisor Dean Preston blasted the response, saying his office is writing a letter to the Police Commission asking it to investigate the matter. Public Defender Mano Raju similarly criticized the “militarized police response” and said his office is concerned juveniles were not afforded their legal rights.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the total number of arrested. There were 117 arrested that day, not 113.