Cops Can’t Dodge Claims by ‘Brutalized’ Student

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Five cops who allegedly beat a student protestor at a San Francisco community college must answer claims that the beating and subsequent arrest violated the student’s constitutional rights, a federal judge ruled.
     The City and County of San Francisco also faces potential liability for the participation of one its police officers, who joined City College of San Francisco police officers in responding to an on-campus rally this past year, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston found on Wednesday.
     But police leaders, the school and its officials were given a pass as Illston granted their motions to dismiss for the most part.
     The judge’s ruling comes in response to motions to dismiss by a dozen defendants who are fighting a lawsuit that was filed by the student and a group called the Save CCSF Coalition.
     Save CCSF organized an on-campus rally in March 2014, as City College was grappling with the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges’ decision to revoke the school’s accreditation.
     The rally centered on the looming revocation as well as a new tuition policy. The group also called for the resignation of a special trustee who had been assigned to turn the school around.
     The fairness of the revocation decision was the subject of a state court trial that ended earlier this year, with an order for a fresh review of the reasons behind it.
     Before that trial ended, Otto Pippenger and the Save CCSF Coalition sued the police and chancellor of City College – as well as the city and police of San Francisco – for civil rights violations at the rally. They claim their free-speech rights were curbed and that the police used excessive force to unlawfully seize Pippenger, and then falsely imprisoned him.
     Pippenger says that both City College and San Francisco police at the rally used violence to silence protestors. The man suffered concussions, broken wrists, bruises and pepper spray burns, he says in a federal civil rights lawsuit that claims police “brutalized” them.
     Sergeant Carlos Gaytan of the San Francisco Community College District and San Francisco police officer Oliver Lim did most of the damage, Pippenger says.
     Gaytan hit Pippenger “repeatedly, breaking both of his wrists,” and then Lim “slammed Otto to the ground and punched Otto in the back of the head as he lay on the floor, causing a concussion,” Pippenger says.
     With the help of a few more cops, he says that Gaytan carried him upstairs by his broken wrists and slammed him to the ground, where they choked and pepper sprayed him.
     In this week’s ruling, Illston said Pippenger and Save CCSF can move ahead with claims against those individuals they say used excessive force.
     “Given the allegations in the first amended complaint that plaintiffs were involved in a peaceful and organized rally and that Pippenger did not resist, interfere, or engage in battery, it is plausible that Pippenger was detained and arrested without probable cause,” Illston wrote.
     She added, though, that “evidence presented at later stages of litigation may prove or disprove plaintiffs’ allegations.”
     The City and County of San Francisco must also face litigation for Lim’s alleged acts, she said.
     Free-speech protections may have been violated when the school chancellor ordered police to stop protestors from entering Conlan Hall, a campus facility that was usually open to students and staff and where rallies had happened before, she said.
     “Here, plaintiffs have pled facts that give rise to the inference that defendants prohibited plaintiffs’ speech and activities merely because defendants disagreed with plaintiffs’ views,” the ruling stated.
     But the community college district and its officials, as a state agency and its employees, are immune in Federal Court under the 11th Amendment.
     Illston said that Pippenger’s lawsuit does not cite enough facts to support claims that the police sergeants and chiefs in command at the time were liable for the alleged civil rights violations of their officers.
     But the school’s chancellor and police brass on both the college and city forces may face individual liability, she concluded.
     Rachel Lederman represents the plaintiffs. Claudia Leed of Stubbs & Leone represents City College, and Margaret Baumgartner of the City Attorney’s Office represents San Francisco.

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