Oakland Port Protesters File Lawsuit Against Police

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OAKLAND-Accompanied by a hefty team of civil rights attorneys and union groups, the 40 protesters injured by rubber bullets and wooden dowels at an April Port of Oakland protest filed a lawsuit against the City of Oakland yesterday.

Police ignored protesters' rights to free speech and peaceful assembly through use of excessive force during the protest, civil rights attorneys said at a press conference yesterday morning.

Oakland police fired non-lethal weapons at a crowd of several hundred, that included UC Berkeley students gathered April 7 to protest the war on Iraq.

Although protesters say the attack was unprovoked, police maintain the protesters threw rocks and refused to disperse.

Plaintiffs hope the class-action lawsuit will prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

"We would like to make sure that no one ever goes to a demonstration of any kind-right or left wing-and has to face what our clients faced," said attorney Jim Chanin. "We're looking for an order that basically backs that up with some teeth."

It is uncertain how long the lawsuit will take, Chanin said.

The protesters are also suing for damages-medical bills, lost wages and emotional distress.

The dollar amount will be determined by a jury, Chanin said.

The protesters are joined in their suit by nine longshoremen who were injured while reporting for work that day, and more protesters are considering joining the suit.

Both protesters and workers sustained painful injuries.

"I was following police orders the whole time and still got shot," said UC Berkeley senior John Nishinaga, a plaintiff in the suit.

Nishinaga was shot in the right hand, sustaining multiple fractures.

As a result of his injuries, he said he took two incompletes and had to delay his graduation until the summer.

Nishinaga hopes the lawsuit will help pay for his medical bills.

Other plaintiffs reported fractures, bad bruising and psychological trauma.

Among those suing is Willow Rosenthal, an Oakland woman who was shot in the calf with a wooden bullet, leading to a massive hematoma requiring surgery.

Rosenthal, who returns to work next week, was laid up for more than a month of work following her injury.

The City of Oakland recently established a third-party panel to investigate the incident, said Karen Boyd, spokesperson for the Oakland City Attorney's office.

The panel meets for the first time on Monday and will give their report in September.

The actions of the police at the port protest reflect a larger problem within the Oakland Police Department that needs to be addressed, plaintiffs' attorneys said.

"The efforts to reform the Oakland Police Department with the Riders case was just the beginning and this provides another opportunity to enhance the quality of policing in this city," said civil rights attorney John Burris, who worked on the recent Rider's case, in a statement.

A team of three Oakland police officers, calling themselves the "Riders," is currently standing trial, accused of beating people or falsifying reports.

The City of Oakland has filed criminal charges against 25 people who were arrested during the protest.

They will go to court next month, a representative from the Alameda County District Attorney's office said.

They are not the same people who filed today's complaint.


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