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PCJF Files Class Action Lawsuit Against San Francisco for its Treatment and Illegal Arrest of More Than 100 Children and Young Adults

Today, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund filed a federal civil rights class action lawsuit against San Francisco and police commanders on behalf of children and young adults arrested in July 2023 at a community event that occurred in Dolores Park in San Francisco, California.

Each year, high school students organize a skateboard event in which community members gather to watch participants skate down Dolores Street: the “Dolores Hill Bomb.” On July 8, 2023, more than 100 police officers with the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) descended on the event, sealing off streets, and proceeded to corral, trap, and arrest 113 young people, without giving notice, warning, or opportunity to disperse. The children were then held outdoors on the street for up to 7 ½ hours, handcuffed, and taken in for custodial arrest and processing.

“We were just trying to go home,” said plaintiff Jolina Tawasha, age 13. “My friend’s dad was waiting on the corner to pick us up, but when I tried to tell the police that, they would not let us leave, and an officer said, ‘we don’t want to hurt you.’ I felt threatened by that and scared. It was the police who made me feel unsafe, more than anything that happened at the Hill Bomb. I knew what I was doing wasn’t wrong, and I didn’t deserve to be arrested or mistreated. I hope that all the kids who are speaking out about this will get our fingerprints and information removed from the system, and that this lawsuit will stop the police from doing something like this again.” 

“These arrests and police conduct were unlawful and violated the youths’ constitutional rights,” said Rachel Lederman, Senior Counsel with the PCJF. “Children and young adults were arrested, traumatized, and held for hours under inhumane conditions for merely participating in or happening to be near the youth skateboard event. They were kept waiting in the cold until the wee hours purely as an illegal dragnet to collect identifying information in a desperate attempt to justify the mass arrest. Families of color have been subjected to massive displacement from the Mission District and discriminatory policing. Our youth should be nurtured, not criminalized. This lawsuit aims to deter SFPD and Mayor Breed’s criminalization of youth and erosion of rights in the name of ‘law and order’.”

“My friends and I didn’t even know about the Dolores Hill Bomb and were just using the bike lane on 17th Street, when out of nowhere, police surrounded us,” said plaintiff Lucy Rios, a high school junior. “We tried to explain we were just on our way across town, but they made us wait on the street for hours. Once I realized that we were actually being arrested, I panicked about how this might affect my future.”

“The majority of the youth who were arrested were Latino and Black children, and SFPD violated constitutional and civil rights of these young people by zip-tying youth for hours on cold concrete, with no access to bathroom facilities, and parents unable to communicate and see their children until the early morning hours,” said Kevin Ortiz, President of the San Francisco Latinx Democratic Club. “The City and County of San Francisco owes financial compensation to these families for the emotional trauma and physical abuse that these children had to endure at the hands of the SFPD.”

“This outrageous, unconstitutional, and abusive arrest of children, carried out with the approval and ratification at the highest level of the SFPD, the Mayor and the District Attorney offices, demonstrates a complete failure of leadership,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the PJCF. “The Constitution does not tolerate mass false arrests of children so that government officials can grab headlines to strike a ‘tough on crime’ pose before the public.” 

The youth and young adults are represented by the PCJF and attorneys Bobbie Stein and Gabriela Lopez.

The case is Tawasha, et al., v. City and County of San Francisco, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California Case No. 3:23-cv-06524.