June 7 2016 06:43 PM

Questions remain about riot squad march after Trump rally

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SDPD forces marched a mile from the convention center into Barrio Logan after the Trump rally.
Photo by Torrey Bailey

It's been nearly two weeks since San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer lauded the way protesters outside the San Diego Convention Center were handled by police in the wake of Donald Trump's presidential campaign rally. Others, meanwhile, are still wondering why a riot squad of hundreds of officers and armored vehicles marched from the convention center for more than a mile into Barrio Logan, a predominantly Latino neighborhood.

Unión del Barrio, Alliance San Diego and the American Friends Service Committee have teamed up with the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to call on both the city and the police department to explain why police continued into Barrio Logan.

"Faulconer violated a 20-year tradition of working with community residents to ensure the protection of our First Amendment rights is exercised and used in an orderly fashion," said Alliance San Diego Human Rights Director Christian Ramirez. "That agreement was shattered by the actions of Mayor Faulconer."

Ramirez added that the community had typically seen transparency from the city, and couldn't understand why that relationship had changed in this instance.

"Why didn't they force people into the Gaslamp area?" asked Enrique Morones, founder of human rights group Border Angels. "Why didn't they force people to go west toward the Marina District? They just seemed to force them into a neighborhood of color where people were minding their own business for the most part."

In all, 33 Trump rally-related arrests were made on May 27. Almost half of those arrests were made in Barrio Logan, including bystanders from the neighborhood and lawyer Bryan Pease. On Facebook, the city attorney candidate posted a video showing him being tackled in the median on Harbor Drive by officers in black riot gear. Pease was arrested, and said he shared a jail cell with 25 people, including five who were just observers to the protest.

A spokesperson for Mayor Faulconer directed questions about the rally's aftermath to the SDPD.

"It wasn't about trying to target Barrio Logan and push people into that neighborhood," said SDPD Public Information Officer Scott Wahl. "That wasn't part of it all. It was about trying to get a crowd split up and moved out of an area where they were fighting."

Wahl said the primary hope was that the protestors would disperse immediately once the rally had been declared an unlawful assembly, but when bottles and punches were thrown, the police had to switch strategies.

Chasing after select individuals, Wahl said, would have created a dangerous environment for officers heading into the crowd, and would have caused a chain reaction of chaos.

So the plan was to move the protesters in a choreographed manner, and to find the safest route to do that.

Directing protesters west would have led into the water, while heading north on Harbor Drive would have caused a collision between Trump protesters and supporters, Wahl said. Funneling them through the crowded streets of the Gaslamp Quarter would have caused further congestion, vandalism and violence.

Regarding the tackling of protesters on the front lines, such as Pease, Wahl said he could not speak on that tactic.

"I realize how things ended," Wahl said. "I'm not trying to minimize that at all for the community in Barrio Logan, but I'm trying to emphasize that our whole intent was to create a safe environment for everybody."

Mayoral candidate Ed Harris had strong words for the executive decision not to rein in the riot police. He called them "Stormtroopers." Harris said he would have stopped the riot police before they got to Barrio Logan.

"It caused a lot of stirring up," said Rebecca Camargo, who was working at Little Caesars in Barrio Logan when the police force moved through. "If we had just been able to share our opinion, it would not have gotten the way it did because it caused us to want to retaliate a lot when they have the big jeeps and the Navy right there."

The ACLU and other activist organizations want answers to questions about how much was spent on the intervention. The costs are being compiled and should be available within two weeks, said Wahl.

Pease is also asking for action from the city. On June 2, he filed a $70,000 false arrest claim against the city of San Diego, Mayor Faulconer and Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman. He said he would revoke the monetary damages if the department agrees to his suggested reforms within 30 days. He asked that the police department hire a free speech expert to teach police about First Amendment rights for protesters and that it files the Police Executive Research Forum report.

Pease said the city should pay for punitive damages and for medical bills for injuries inflicted during the arrest.

"From the tackle and then sitting for 10 hours, I've had some back pain and I've been sick all week from the jail I think as well," he says.

Pease's case, along with the other 32, are being reviewed by the SDPD and have not yet arrived at the City Attorney's Office, said Director of Communications Gerry Braun.

"I think it's important that people realize that the police report to the mayor's office," said Morones. "The mayor is the one who has the ultimate credit or the ultimate blame, depending on how you look at it. For him not to come out and make a statement, I think speaks for itself."

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