The parents of teenagers caught in the mass arrests at the July Dolores Park “hill bomb” filed a claim against San Francisco on Monday, alleging that police officials violated their children’s constitutional rights.
The claim, a precursor to a lawsuit or lawsuits, lays out the teenagers’ version of events the night of July 8, 2023, when 117 skateboarders and spectators were arrested by San Francisco police officers who wanted to shut down the hill bomb. The informal event takes place yearly at Dolores Park, and involves skaters racing downhill. Several serious injuries and one death have occurred at the hill bomb in recent years.
The claim filed Monday by attorney Rachel Lederman details the accounts of four teenagers who said they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time that night.
One 13-year-old, Jolina Tawasha, was waiting “to be picked up by a friend’s father” when she and her friends were “corralled by SFPD officers.” A 17-year-old, Eriberto Jimenez, was heading home when “he and his friends were met by a line of SFPD officers pointing weapons” and prevented from leaving. A 15-year-old, Carmen Lopez, lives near Dolores Park and encountered officers who “did not give specific instructions about how they could leave or where they should go.”
Lucy Rios, another 15-year-old, was riding a scooter alongside two friends from Potrero Hill across the Mission when they ran into a friend, according to the claim, and paused on their ride “for a few minutes.”
“Suddenly, SFPD officers came running towards them … yelling at them” to go back from where they had come, the claim states. When they tried to comply and move off the street, “they were stopped by police” and told to go another way. Eventually, the friends were “trapped between police lines,” according to the claim. “There was no way out.”
The four teenagers and their parents are named as plaintiffs, but the claim was submitted as a class action and would cover all people “similarly situated” the night of the hill bomb. All 113 of the people who were trapped in a kettle formation by police, out of 117 total arrested that day, could be represented in future lawsuits, in other words.
The mass arrest, the largest arrest of teenagers in San Francisco in at least six years, took place after police attempted unsuccessfully to disperse the hill bomb crowds. Instead of scattering, skaters simply moved to different hills around the park before being chased off by officers. Several attendees tossed bottles and fireworks in the direction of police officers; others spray-painted Muni vehicles.
Parents, arriving in the moments after the arrest, demanded the release of their children, sometimes screaming at and rushing into the lines of officers. They were told to wait until their children had been booked, and dozens congregated outside nearby Mission Station, waiting into the wee hours for their children to be released. The last child was released at 4:15 a.m.
Jen Kwart, a spokesperson for City Attorney David Chiu, said his office is “reviewing the claim and will respond in the appropriate timeframe.”
No bathrooms, cold temperatures, teenagers soiling themselves
The bulk of the nine-page claim details the alleged mistreatment suffered by dozens of teenagers who were encircled by police after the hill bomb. Their claims matched reporting from the night of the incident and in the days after it.
After police spent hours pushing crowds of skaters from corner to corner, dozens of officers isolated 113 people — largely teens — on Guerrero Street at around 8 p.m., keeping them sitting on the pavement for hours before zip-tying them one-by-one and transporting them to Mission Station to be processed.
The claim describes teenagers dressed “for a sunny early evening” who were kept on the ground as “the temperature dropped and the night turned cold and windy.” Police did not provide warm clothing, the claim states, and this reporter observed teenagers dressed in tank tops and skirts being held outside for hours.
Teenagers also asked officers for bathrooms, which were denied, according to the claim: Those on the ground “implored” officers for “access to the bathroom,” and eventually “asked if they could relieve themselves behind a car, but the officers did not answer.”
The claim states that “a sympathetic neighbor tossed a bucket down from her window” to allow the kids to urinate, which helped some, but not all: “Others were forced to urinate in their pants, causing them shame, humiliation and embarrassment, and compounding their cold and discomfort.”
The claim also details how teenage girls loaded onto a bus for transport “were crying and begging to use the bathroom” and how, once they arrived at the Mission District police station, “an officer watched them use the toilet.”
Boys had their belts removed and struggled to keep their pants from falling off. One boy vomited on himself, according to the claim, but officers “just told the children to move that boy away from the rest of the group and left them to care for their peer on the street.” One of the plaintiffs gave the boy a water bottle, but “the police did not provide any water or food,” the claim states.
Once the boys were transported to Mission Station, they were kept in “an open air, concrete garage-like area” outside. A sprinkler went off, the claim states, and several boys got wet, but were not given dry clothes. They were finally allowed to use the bathroom at around 3 a.m., “approximately seven hours after they were first detained.”
All four plaintiffs said they suffered pain from overly-restrictive zip-ties, which officers refused to loosen.
The claim states that the “detention conditions violated SFPD’s own policy for juvenile detention,” which requires access to bathrooms, water and food. Those policies also discourage long detentions and use of police stations.
Lawyer plans state, federal class action suits after hill bomb
The claim, which details a litany of constitutional violations, gives the city 45 days to resolve the case outside of court. But the four named plaintiffs’ lawyer, Lederman, said she does not expect a resolution, and is preparing for state and federal civil rights lawsuits.
“I do expect that we will be filing a federal civil-rights lawsuit,” she said, “and we will be asking for other kinds of relief, in addition to money.”
Lederman said that, besides an unknown amount of damages, her clients will ask that the teenagers’ arrest records be “sealed and destroyed,” and that a federal court issue a “finding of exoneration,” in case the arrests are ever resurfaced during job screenings, for instance.
She said the suits would also seek reforms to city and police department policy “to prevent this from happening again,” but said the specific reforms would depend on information unearthed during the lawsuits’ discovery phase.
The claim specifically names three police officials: Police Chief William Scott, Lieutenant Matt Sullivan, and Mission Station Captain Thomas Harvey. Lederman said all three were behind the decision-making regarding the hill bomb crackdown, according to a public records request she filed regarding the incident. Harvey was the incident commander during the night of the arrests and was present on the scene, while Sullivan is a lieutenant in the special operations bureau.
Those arrested that night have since seen almost all of their charges dismissed by the District Attorney’s Office and Juvenile Probation Department, though the police department is still reviewing hours of body-camera footage and could recommend charges in the future.