SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A news photographer claims in court that Oakland police injured him for taking pictures of a protest of the verdict against a transit policeman who shot an unarmed black man to death on a train platform.
John Weston Osburn sued Oakland, three named police officers and other Doe officers, in a federal civil rights complaint.
He claims Oakland cops tackled him and “maliciously and sadistically” handcuffed him so tightly it severely injured his wrist, compromising his ability to hold a camera and do his job.
In his complaint, Osburn says he was covering a protest about the “whitewash verdict exonerating BART policeman Johannes Mehserle,” who killed Oscar Grant on July 8, 2010 in downtown Oakland.
Osburn says he was covering the protest for IndyBay, an online news organization.
Mehserle killed Grant on a BART station platform after Grant and other riders were removed from a train after a fight in the early hours of New Years Day 2008. Mehserle claimed in court that he was reaching for his Taser but mistakenly pulled out his gun. He was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter but cleared of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. Mehserle ended up serving half of the 2-year sentence, according to media reports.
Osburn says in his complaint that the case had “caused a great deal of ferment in the community, and more was expected” on the night of July 8, 2010.
During the “peaceful” protest, which he filmed, Osburn says, officers in riot gear advanced on the crowd.
He claims he saw “a police field commander clearly pointing at him, the plaintiff, and apparently instructing officers to go after him, which they did.”
He says the cops surrounded, grabbed and tackled him, “despite his lack of any resistance, and attempt to cooperate.”
The officers “twisted his arms behind him, seriously injuring his wrist, and then handcuffed him much too tightly, ‘maliciously and sadistically for the purpose of causing harm’, which they did.”
He claims the Oakland Police charged him with attempted arson, “knowing he had committed no such offense, but that the seriousness of the charge would cause him to be held in jail, illegally, rather than released; which he was, for five days before being released. Other, different charges against him were eventually dropped,” according to the complaint.
And, Osburn says, officers tampered with his camera, deleting footage.
He says his wrist still hurt and was “greatly impaired, for many weeks after the incident, and still not fully healed – and apparently may never heal – almost two years later.”
Osburn sued the City of Oakland, police Sgt. B. Ortiz, Officer J. Cunnie and Lt. (fnu) Hamilton.
He seeks punitive damages for unreasonable seizure, and constitutional violations, including denial of due process.
He is represented by Dennis Cunningham in San Francisco.