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Judge won’t release identifying documents in lawsuit alleging San Diego police bias at Trump rally

A federal magistrate halted the release of documents that would reveal the identities of two suspected antifa members as well as one pro-Trump demonstrator who allegedly lobbed a smoke grenade at counter-protesters at a Jan. 9 rally in San Diego.

SAN DIEGO (CN) — The city of San Diego does not have to disclose the identity of a suspect who allegedly threw an incendiary device at anti-Trump demonstrators at a Pacific Beach “Patriot March” on Jan. 9 where Trump supporters clashed with counter-protesters.

Mandy Lien and Erin Smith sued the city, Mayor Todd Gloria and police chief David Nisleit over tactics police used to disperse the anti-Trump crowd after declaring it an unlawful assembly. They claim officers beat them with batons and deployed pepper spray and pepper balls while giving high fives to the Trump supporters and allowing them to continue their march. 

In the lawsuit, Smith says she was “bludgeoned by a group of male officers” after she tripped and fell on the pavement. She was also hit in the back of the arm with a pepper ball fired by officers as she was walking away.

Police spokesman Lieutenant Shawn Takeuchi told the San Diego Union-Tribune two days later that law enforcement had ordered counter-protesters to disperse because they were throwing bottles, rocks and eggs at officers, while the pro-Trump marchers were not.

Gloria and Nisleit were dismissed from the case earlier this year.

The rally was organized in response to a Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, where pro-Trump demonstrators stormed a joint session of Congress in an effort to stop lawmakers from certifying President Joe Biden’s election win.

Bryan Pease, an attorney representing Lien and Smith, requested an unredacted version of a  12-page document the city produced during discovery containing law enforcement emails, a “Be on the Lookout” report revealing the identity of a person on the “Pro-Trump side” who launched a smoke grenade at counter-protesters, and the full names, birth dates, photographs and prior arrest histories of two suspected “antifa” members currently under investigation.

“Plaintiffs are entitled to discovery into the identity of these ‘subjects,’ which could reveal that they were agitators attempting to create a pretense for action being taken against the anti-Trump side, or other information relevant to plaintiffs’ claims,” Pease wrote in a letter to the judge.

U.S. Magistrate Judge William Gallo declined that request on Tuesday, finding the information is protected by law enforcement investigation privilege.

He added that Pease’s argument for disclosure — that outside agitators had instigated violence on the anti-Trump side — rang similar to that made by Trump supporters about the Jan. 6 riot.

“Interestingly, in the aftermath of the grotesque events of January 6, 2021, this same strained argument was used by some Trump supporters who claimed antifa had infiltrated their ranks, and it was the infiltrators — not Trump supporters — who breached the U.S. Capitol and murdered a police officer — the same event that plaintiffs and fellow counter-Trump protestors were countering on January 9,” Gallo wrote. “Now on the other side, plaintiffs — without any reasonable basis — engage in the same baseless and strained speculation.”

Gallo also said the redacted information is irrelevant and that the plaintiffs can easily obtain what they need from other sources.

“The notion that plaintiffs would somehow be prejudiced if they do not learn the identity of these three specific individuals is ludicrous given the hundreds of other individuals who were present that day and the many hours of video recorded by all sources,” the judge added. “Accordingly, any evidence these three individuals may have is readily obtainable from a multitude of other sources without compromising active criminal investigations or pending prosecutions.”

Pease did not respond to an email seeking comment on the ruling.

Follow @MariaDinzeo
Categories / Civil Rights, Courts, Politics, Regional

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