SFPD chief promises detailed account of Dolores Park mass arrests

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday July 13, 2023
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SFPD chief promises detailed account of Dolores Park mass arrests

San Francisco Police Chief William Scott promised a detailed presentation at next week's Police Commission meeting on the mass arrest of teenagers during what law enforcement characterized as a "riot" following chaos at the annual "hill bomb" skateboard event down Dolores Street July 8.

"Everything I present to you will be taken from the videos — body-worn camera videos, the videos we have seen from members of the public," Scott said at the July 12 commission meeting. "Next week we will release the videos and have a detailed account of everything that happened, including the timeline."

Over 100 people were arrested at the event last Saturday, mostly juveniles.

The chief's remarks came after 48 members of the public commented at the commission's weekly meeting Wednesday evening; 44 were opposed to the police's actions July 8, one was in favor; and three comments were unrelated.

Rocco, a 15-year-old who did not give his last name, said he was one of those arrested. He had just arrived when he saw police lining up and was trying to leave the area, he said, when police "trapped us" in the street.

"A bunch of police trapped us on that street and never told us why we're being detained or anything, they just told us to sit down and shut up," Rocco said, adding he'd been detained for hours without being booked.

His mother, who didn't give her name, also spoke.

"It's not something I would wish on any parent, and it's not only affecting our child, it's affecting our whole family," she said. "I don't think I've slept since Saturday night. All the charges are outrageous, totally unsubstantiated."

The San Francisco District Attorney's office said Tuesday that most of the adults arrested and booked were issued citations for misdemeanors. When asked about the juveniles, Randy Quezada, spokesperson for the DA's office, stated to the B.A.R. that the "juvenile proceedings are confidential."

Gunshots, smoke bombs, a stabbing, vandalism, the takeover of Muni streetcars, and fireworks led to the mass arrest around 8:30 p.m. July 8 after dispersal orders from the San Francisco Police Department, authorities said. In all, 81 juveniles and 34 adults were arrested, according to police.

The crowd was ordered dispersed when, during the arrest of two juveniles after an officer suffered lacerations to the face, people in the crowd threw "ignited fireworks, smoke bombs, glass bottles, and metal cans" at arresting officers, police stated. After barricades for the hill bomb erected by the police started to be torn down — about 45 minutes later — the mass arrest was conducted.

Mixed reactions

Community reaction to the police's actions has been mixed. Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said he's "grateful" for the police and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency responses.

He called the hill bomb "problematic." Indeed, during a 2020 event, a skateboarder and a cyclist collided, leading to the cyclist's death and raised pavement dots being installed on Dolores Street to disincentivize future use. A hill bomb is a skateboard maneuver in which a rider goes down a big hill.

"The Dolores Hill Bomb has been a problematic event for many years," Mandelman stated to the B.A.R. on Sunday. "Property damage and injury to participants seems to have been reduced this year, but plainly there's more work for the city to do to prepare for next year. I'm grateful for the work of MTA and the PD to contain the mayhem this year and wishing the injured officer a speedy recovery."

Barricades were erected and additional officers were assigned to the area in preparation for the annual hill bomb, which agitated the largely teenage crowd attending the event, according to media reports.

Those opposed to the police's actions made their voices heard Wednesday; with Jeffrey Kwong, a gay man who is president of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, telling the commissioners an older gay man approached him Sunday to compare the July 8 response to the SFPD response to the White Night Riots, when officers went to the Castro to beat up patrons at the Elephant Walk.

(The 1979 riots followed former supervisor and police officer Dan White — the assassin of Mayor George Moscone and gay supervisor Harvey Milk — being convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to only seven years for his crime.)

"The scenes Saturday with hundreds of police officers in riot gear drawing guns — he never thought that would happen again in San Francisco after living through tumultuous times," Kwong said.

Other LGBTQ leaders also spoke during public comment, including Stephen Torres, a queer man on the entertainment commission who is also the executive chair of the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District's advisory board.

"The organic events that happen in San Francisco are part of the fabric of this city," Torres said. "If we are telling the youth of the community that this is how we are going to react to them, we are not centering them or holding them as the future of this community. ... When I hear reports of mothers not knowing where their children are, it sends pangs to my heart."

He was echoed by Kevin Ortiz, a queer man who is co-president of the San Francisco Latinx Democratic Club.

"Ask yourself, commissioners, how would you feel if that was your child?" Ortiz asked. "Commissioners: you have the opportunity to prevent something much worse from happening."

Several speakers brought up allegations of civil rights violations; Rocco, for example, said he'd never been Mirandized (when a police officer reads someone who's been arrested their constitutional rights, beginning with the right to remain silent).

Others reported stories of youth freezing in the cold, defecating or urinating on themselves and not being allowed to drink water.

Only one person spoke in favor; he did not identify himself but said that the teenagers will be more traumatized by what comes later in life than the events of last weekend.

"The ideological dogma you can't arrest your way out of poverty and that drug arrests kill people depends on mob logic, which is an oxymoron in itself," he said. "You can arrest the cycle of poverty by arresting repeat criminals." He also made transphobic remarks, which drew jeers.

Multiple commissioners encouraged anyone alleging a violation of their civil rights to report it to the San Francisco Department of Police Accountability, an independent investigatory agency. A DPA representative was present at the meeting.

Paul Henderson, a gay man who is executive director of the department, told the B.A.R. on Tuesday that he couldn't comment other than to confirm the existence of an investigation. His department takes into consideration SFPD rules and not just legal statutes, giving it more of an ability to redress people's complaints.

Three commissioners spoke after Scott promised a detailed presentation next week.

The first was Commissioner Jesus Yáñez, who said he supports a DPA investigation.

"I'm embarrassed for our city," he said. "I'm embarrassed for the actions this department took to criminalize an act, an outlet for young people, that could've been contained, could've been celebrated," he continued, referring to the hill bomb.

A member of the public watching the proceedings yelled back: "You fingerprinted them!"

"I also am asking Chief Scott: you provide us with the details about the deployment, how many officers were requested, how much overtime was invested, and how many officers culminated in the event," Yáñez continued. "I do expect to see this room full again next week, when we delve further into this conversation."

Commissioner Kevin Benedicto called the police's actions "absolutely unacceptable."

Commissioner Debra Walker, a lesbian, said, "I think these events, when done with community input and done right, are the best thing for our city and I would be happy to help in any way possible," but "we got to do it right," to which she got jeers.

"What my point is, is that we got to do better from here on in to make sure they are planned safely, internally and externally," she said.

The Police Commission meets Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. Meetings are viewable on SFGovTV.

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