Protesters File Excessive Force Claim Against Oakland Unified School District

OaklandUnifiedSchoolDistrict
NBC Bay Area

Nine parents and teachers filed a claim against the Oakland Unified School District on Friday alleging that police officers used excessive force against them in a confrontation at a school board meeting last month in which some of them were injured.

The incident occurred at a meeting on Oct. 23 at which parents and teachers protested against the large number of charter schools in the district and the district's plan to close some schools and merge them with other schools.

Video from the meeting showed police officers striking the protesting parents with batons as they approached a metal barricade.

Six protesters were arrested at the meeting but Alameda County District Attorney spokeswoman Teresa Drenick said on Friday that her office won't file charges against any of them.

Speaking at a news conference outside the school district's headquarters, Oakland civil rights attorney Dan Siegel, who represents the plaintiffs, said, "Police have a right to arrest people but they don't have right to punish them."

Siegel, who served on the school board for 8 years and also served as the district's general counsel for a time, said, "I've been around the school district for 35 years and this is the first time I've seen police use batons and weapons against people" at a meeting.

School district spokesman John Sasaki declined to comment on the claim, saying, "We don't comment on pending litigation."

A day after the Oct. 23 meeting, school district Police Chief Jeff Godown defended the use of batons on protesters, saying officers were using enough force to keep the protesters from pushing forward and from getting on the stage where school board members were seated.

Godown said officers were injured during the incident as well.

Saru Jayaraman, a University of California at Berkeley professor, activist and author who has two daughters at a school slated to be closed, said the force police used against her caused her to suffer torn anterior cruciate and medial cruciate ligaments and a torn meniscus in her knee, requiring surgery.

Amy Haruyama, a first-grade teacher with 25 years of experience, said an officer struck her with a baton and knocked her off her feet, causing her to suffer whiplash and severe bruising.

Haruyama said, "I've never seen such police brutality but the school board let it happen."

Deidre Snyder, a recently retired teacher, said she also suffered severe bruising from baton strikes.

Snyder said, "I didn't do anything wrong except stand up for Oakland students and the future of Oakland schools."

Ella Baker Center for Human Rights Executive Director Zachary Norris, who is Jayaraman's husband and was one of the six people who were arrested, said he believes the school board "is bent on closing schools," particularly those with a large percentage of black and brown students.

Norris said the plan to close those schools is "the civil rights issue of our time."

The claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, seeks unspecified damages for medical expenses, loss of employment and emotional distress.

In addition to the school district, the claim names as defendants Godown, Sgt. Donald Perrier, a private security company whose officers were involved in the incident, school board members and school district administrators.

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