Police and Government Misconduct

Police and Government Misconduct

Rachel Lederman has been litigating on behalf of persons whose rights have been violated by police and government agents since 1989. See information on some of our current cases here.

Rachel’s work has had a significant impact on San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley Police First Amendment and crowd event practices, upholding the fundamental right to demonstrate for social change. She is currently leading civil litigation challenging law enforcement repression against the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance at Standing Rock, on behalf of the Water Protector Legal Collective.

One of Rachel’s first civil rights cases involved AIDS activists who had been clubbed and unlawfully detained by the San Francisco Police in what became known as the “Castro Sweep”. This case settled during trial for more than $225,000. A few years later, SFPD swept the Mission District, unlawfully arresting 350 people after then-Mayor Frank Jordan declared a local State of Emergency in response to unrest over the acquittals of the LAPD officers whose beating of Rodney King had been captured on video. After five years of hard fought litigation, Rachel won a $1 million settlement and a Ninth Circuit decision confirming that the government may not suspend the constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly during volatile times, Collins v. Jordan. This and other advocacy work brought a sea change in how the San Francisco handled protests.

When the U.S. began bombing Iraq in 2003, the Oakland Police responded to a peaceful community picket at the Port of Oakland by shooting more than 50 antiwar demonstrators and longshoremen with so-called “less lethal” munitions, such as wooden bullets and lead shot-filled “beanbag” rounds. Rachel was part of a National Lawyers Guild – ACLU legal team, who along with Jim Chanin and John Burris sued Oakland in Local 10, et al. v. City of Oakland. This case resulted in a comprehensive overhaul of OPD Crowd Control Policy, as well as monetary settlements totaling more than $2 million. The OPD Crowd Control Policy that Rachel helped write is a model policy which prohibits unconstitutional tactics such as firing impact munitions into crowds, or making mass arrests without individual justification and without notice and opportunity to disperse.

Unfortunately, the minute OPD was once again faced with volatile protests, it began violating the negotiated Crowd Control Policy. Rachel was the lead counsel in a National Lawyers Guild legal team who sued OPD and the City of Oakland in two companion federal civil rights cases, Spalding v. City of Oakland (a class action for wrongful mass arrest of Justice for Oscar Grant protesters) and Campbell v. City of Oakland (a multi-plaintiff action for twelve people who were injured during fall, 2011, Occupy Oakland demonstrations.) In June 2013, settlements were reached in both cases which include a stipulated injunction providing for federal court enforcement of the Crowd Control Policy along with other reforms, including reforms greatly reducing the amount of time that people generally spend in custody after a mass arrest. In fact, mass arrests have become rare since these cases were resolved.

The Spalding and Campbell settlements included nearly $2.2 million for those who were injured and/or arrested, and a separate lawsuit for a veteran who lost most of his spleen when an OPD officer beat him on November 2, 2011, brought the total to $2.84 million. Rachel, Jim Chanin and Julie Houk also litigated to obtain justice for Scott Olsen, a Marines veteran who was shot in the head with a lead-filled “beanbag” round during the October 25, 2011, Occupy demonstration. His skull was shattered and he suffered a serious permanent brain injury. After he was lying critically injured on the ground, an OPD officer threw an explosive chemical agent grenade at him and people who were trying to come to his aid. In March, 2014, Rachel and co-counsel won a $4.5 million settlement which is providing Mr. Olsen with life-long support.

Rachel accepts a limited number of police and government misconduct cases for people who have been beaten, shot, wrongfully arrested, or otherwise abused by law enforcement or prison officials.

General information that may be useful for survivors of police misconduct can be found in the NLG NPAP Manual for Victims of Police Misconduct.