Today, the ACLU of Northern California and the law firm of Keker & Van Nest, LLP, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City and County of San Francisco, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) and three individual officers for excessive force, unreasonable search and seizure, and false arrest and imprisonment. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Travis Hall, a Black 23-year-old San Francisco graphic designer and a recent Fordham University graduate, who was unlawfully detained, beaten and arrested by SFPD officers.
“Black lives matter not just in Ferguson, but right here in San Francisco too,” said Nayna Gupta, who is representing Hall on behalf of the ACLU of Northern California. “Travis Hall’s case is a reminder of the abuse of police power that occurs regularly here in the Bay Area. In fact, in San Francisco, a Black resident is seven times more likely to be arrested than a white resident. We must take immediate action to eliminate this disparity and protect San Franciscans like Travis from being victimized by the very people who are supposed to serve them.”
The suit alleges that, on April 10, 2015, three plainclothes SFPD officers initially approached Hall and his friends in the South of Market neighborhood as he was getting dropped off at the apartment where he lives with his mother. According to the lawsuit, the officers gave inconsistent reasons for his detention and arrest. The complaint states that the officers dragged Hall out of the backseat of his friend’s car and beat him when he tried to call his mom for help. As a result of this interaction, Hall suffered a concussion, and cuts and bruises to his neck and head. Charges against Hall were dropped shortly after the incident.
“The officers automatically assumed I was doing something wrong because I am Black,” said Hall. “I felt helpless and like there was nothing I could do. I just had to take it. But now we are doing something to make sure these officers are held accountable.”
“No person should be treated the way that Travis Hall was treated,” said Ajay Krishnan, partner at Keker & Van Nest, LLP. “Mr. Hall was minding his own business, just a few steps outside of his own home, when these police officers chose to approach, harass, and violently attack him. He will suffer these wounds for a long time to come. What happened to Mr. Hall was an outrage, and these officers must be held unaccountable.”
In light of the recent allegations against four SFPD officers charged with exchanging racist and homophobic text messages, as well as the numerous cases of police shootings of unarmed Black men in Baltimore, Maryland, Charleston, South Carolina, and around the country, the need for changes in law enforcement policies and practices locally and nationally is acute.
“San Francisco has to begin to recognize that it is not immune from racial disparities, implicit bias and discrimination in its law enforcement,” said Christopher C. Hite, Chair of the Racial Justice Committee of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. “Until there is a concerted effort to invest in necessary reforms, training and continued education, African Americans in San Francisco will continue to be treated as second class citizens when it comes to field identifications, detentions, traffic stops and arrests.”
A recent study conducted by the W. Haywood Burns Institute confirms pervasive racial bias throughout SFPD, finding Black adults in San Francisco are 11 times as likely as Whites to be booked into county jail. Despite a 21 percent decrease in the number of Black adults between 1994 and 2013, the disparity gap in arrests increased: In 1994, 4.6 Black people were arrested for every White person; in 2013, more than seven Blacks were arrested for every White arrest. In short, Black adults in San Francisco are overrepresented in every step of the criminal justice process.
The ACLU of Northern California is co-sponsoring AB 953: The Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015, which would modernize the definition of racial and identity profiling, require the state to collect and report basic information on police-community interactions, and establish an advisory board to develop solutions to curb profiling.
Attorneys on the case include Christine P. Sun and Nayna Gupta of the ACLU of Northern California, and Ajay Krishnan, David Rizk, and Anjali Srinivasan of Keker & Van Nest, LLP.