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Journalist sues Oakland PD over tear gas used during George Floyd protests

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 1/27/2022 By Rachel Swan
Demonstrators running from teargas used by the Oakland Police Department after protest against police brutality and the killing of black citizens in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, June 1, 2020. A Bay Area journalist sued Oakland, claiming he sustained serious injuries after fleeing police tear gas during the protest. © Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The Chronicle

Demonstrators running from teargas used by the Oakland Police Department after protest against police brutality and the killing of black citizens in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, June 1, 2020. A Bay Area journalist sued Oakland, claiming he sustained serious injuries after fleeing police tear gas during the protest.

A Bay Area journalist sued the city of Oakland over its handling of the June 2020 George Floyd protests, saying police officers indiscriminately deployed tear gas and flash bang grenades at the crowd, causing him to fall and fracture his foot.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday by Timothy Michael Ryan was the latest in a string of litigation against Oakland police over crowd control tactics during four days of uprisings. The most high-profile of those cases seeks to bar law enforcement from using tear gas and flash bang grenades altogether in Oakland.

Ryan said he was covering the protests in downtown Oakland for KCBS radio on June 1, 2020, when he got caught in a confrontation between police and participants at Broadway and Ninth Street, according to the complaint.

At about 7:40 p.m., filing says, Ryan was standing near the intersection with a digital recorder, press identification attached to his belt, and a helmet bearing the word “PRESS,” when officers began firing tear gas “towards peaceful participants in the protests and journalists.”

A representative from the Oakland City Attorney’s Office, which handles litigation filed against the city, declined to comment. A representative from the police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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As gas clouded the air, Ryan said he had trouble breathing, and felt a burning sensation in his eyes, nose and throat, along with panic welling up. He began running away and tripped and fell, suffering a “near full-thickness tear (to) his right anterior talofibular ligament, a partial tear of his right calcaneofibular ligament, and a non-displaced fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone of his right foot.”

He needed surgery for his injuries and was placed on temporary and permanent disability, the lawsuit said. It names Capt. Roland Holmgren and Sgt. Patrick Gonzalez as co-defendants with the city, saying Holmgren was serving as the police department’s incident commander and “had full authority over the tactics and weapons” deployed by Oakland police officers and agencies sent in to provide mutual aid.

Gonzalez, described in the complaint as the supervisor of the Oakland Police Department Tactical Operations team during the June 1 protest, “was authorized and equipped to utilize tear gas and other less-lethal weapons in support of the Oakland Police Department’s crowd control activities on that date.”

Ryan accused the defendants of failing to train and properly oversee officers using excessive force against people exercising their right to gather, including a journalist attempting to report the news. They seek unspecified damages, citing medical bills, physical, mental, and financial distress and infringement on Ryan’s ability to advance his career in the media.

Separately, Siegel and civil rights attorney Walter Riley filed a federal class action against Oakland days after the string of protests from May 29 through June 1, based on the use of tear gas and what Siegal saw as unreasonable force during that period. He said he is currently in settlement talks with the city and court, aiming to ban tear gas as a tool to suppress or disperse crowds in Oakland.

Additional fallout came last year, when Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said at a a press conference that officers violated the department’s use-of-force policy 35 times during the four days of demonstrations. Armstrong announced he was meting out discipline ranging from written reprimands to suspensions.

Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: rswan@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @rachelswan

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