Federal Court Certifies Class Action by Oscar Grant Protesters

With Spring Protests Against Police Brutality and Economic Inequality On the Rise, NLG Warns OPD and ACSO to Respect Constitutional Rights.

In a March 23, 2012 decision, United State District Court Judge Thelton Henderson granted the plaintiffs' motion for class certification in a lawsuit brought by the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) against the Oakland Police (OPD) on behalf of 150 people arrested at a November 5, 2010, demonstration. "This action raises questions about the County (and City) Defendants' common treatment of members of the proposed class," Judge Henderson stated in an eight-page order.

The class action, Spalding et al. v. City of Oakland, No. C11-2867 TEH, challenges OPD's kettling and mass arrest of the 150 during a march protesting the light sentence given Johannes Mehserle; and their subsequent incarceration by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office.

"California law requires most misdemeanor arrestees to be released at the scene or at the police station, but in Alameda County, even very minor charges often result in extended periods of time in jail," explained National Lawyers Guild attorney Rachel Lederman. "The Mehserle sentencing demonstrators were herded by police into a residential block and trapped there, along with neighborhood residents. Then they were all detained for 18-24 hours under horrendous conditions. The documents we have obtained from Oakland and from Alameda County show that there was no lawful basis for the mass arrest, or for the incarceration."

"We were boxed in by lines of police officers in riot gear who announced, without warning, that we were all under arrest," said named plaintiff Daniel Spalding. "We were handcuffed and left sitting on the street and then in buses for a total of about eight hours without access to a bathroom. People urinated in their pants as we sat in the hot crowded bus. It was 3am before I was taken inside the jail and put in a cell with 27 other people. There was no place to sleep. I did not get out until 6:30pm that next evening."

"We were exercising our First Amendment right to protest police brutality by marching to the site of the shooting," added Katharine Loncke, another named plaintiff, "but the OPD blocked us all in and arrested us for nothing." Loncke described that, "At the jail, all the women were made to go into a stall without a door on it and urinate into a cup for a pregnancy test. I was held in a very cold and crowded cell with fifteen other women. No food was provided for more than twelve hours after our initial detention. There was no room to lay down. I sat up against a wall for the entire night."

"In recent months we've seen a repeat of the same abuses by OPD and the ACSO against Occupy Oakland," said NLG attorney and Chapter President Michael Flynn. "The 400 arrested on January 28 were again, unlawfully incarcerated, with no beds or blankets, and denied bathroom access for long periods of time. The National Lawyers Guild is determined to stop these unconstitutional policies and practices by OPD and ACSO."

In November, the NLG and ACLU filed a second lawsuit against OPD challenging the use of force against Occupy Oakland, Campbell et al. v. City of Oakland, Case No. C11-05498 RS.

The NLGSF has provided legal support to social justice activism for decades, including training and sending legal observers to protests and providing pro bono lawyers to defend accused activists. The NLGSF is the Bay Area Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild – a national non-profit legal and political organization of lawyers, legal workers, law students and jailhouse lawyers founded in 1937. We do movement legal work, using the law to protect human rights above property interests and to attain social justice.