A class action lawsuit filed today alleges that the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office violated the rights of 150 people who were arrested after former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle was sentenced last Nov. 5. The suit, filed in federal court in Oakland, claims that Oakland police unconstitutionally and unlawfully arrested the protesters without probable cause and sheriff’s deputies caused them pain, discomfort, embarrassment and humiliation by holding them for up to 24 hours with little access to restrooms or food. The lawsuit, filed by attorneys affiliated with the National Lawyers Guild, also alleges that deputies forced some of those arrested to provide DNA samples even though the arrests were only based on the allegation of participating in an unlawful assembly, which is a non-violent misdemeanor. The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages for the protesters who were arrested as well as an injunction that would force the Oakland Police Department to comply with its crowd control policies. The lawsuit was filed only hours after Mesherle, 29, was released from the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail at about 12:30 a.m. today. Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Hayward man who was unarmed, after Mehserle and other officers responded to reports that there was a fight on a train. Mehserle admitted in a highly-publicized trial last year that he shot and killed Grant but claimed he had meant to use his stun gun on Grant and fired his service gun by mistake. Alameda County prosecutors sought to have Mehserle convicted of murder, but in a verdict on July 8 jurors only convicted him of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. On Nov. 5, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry sentenced Mehserle to two years. Mehserle was released from custody today because he was given credit for time he served in jail before and after his conviction. A rally was held in downtown Oakland that evening, after which some demonstrators marched toward the Fruitvale BART station. Michael Flynn of the San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild said at a news conference in downtown Oakland today that Oakland police funneled the protesters to the 1700 block of Sixth Avenue but then refused to give them an opportunity to leave and ultimately arrested them. Daniel Spalding said he was among those who were arrested even though he identified himself as an observer for the National Lawyers Guild. The suit says there was no probable cause or legal basis to arrest the protesters and none of the plaintiffs in the case was ever charged with a crime. Rachel Jackson of the Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant said she believes Oakland police created “an atmosphere of intimidation” before and during the protest to discourage people from participating in the demonstration. Oakland City Attorney spokesman Alex Katz said he could not comment on the lawsuit because his office had not yet seen it. Alameda County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. J.D. Nelson said once those who were arrested were taken to Glenn Dyer Jail in Oakland they were placed in holding areas with bathroom facilities and given bag lunches. However, Nelson admitted, “I’m sure it was inconvenient” for those who were arrested because of the crowded conditions. Nelson said that because of funding cutbacks the Sheriff’s Department did not have the number of staff members it would have liked to deal with the large number of people who were arrested.
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