Four men detained in a raid of a rap music video shoot in the city’s Hunters Point neighborhood in March filed a civil rights lawsuit Wednesday against the city and the San Francisco Police Department. The four plaintiffs, identified in the federal lawsuit as Brian MacArthur, Dante Andry, Joseph McGowan and Arthur Stern Jr., claim that police officers discriminated against them and others when they raided 20 men at a music video shoot on March 8. San Francisco police spokesman Officer Carlos Manfredi said that on March 8 officers responded to a call of a group of adults at the playground.
The officers were informed that the men were making a rap video and they left, but remained on patrol in the vicinity of the playground, Manfredi said. At about 5 p.m., officers saw “a black male with a black hoodie. The male had a gun in his hand and racked a round into the chamber. The male then put the gun into his waistband,” according to Manfredi. That male, later identified by police as 21-year-old Richmond resident Taj Williams, walked into the crowd where the group was making the video.
Officers feared the male might use the gun on someone in the crowd, and the officers moved in and ordered the male in the hoodie out of the crowd, Manfredi said. Williams was arrested for being a felon carrying a concealed and loaded firearm, according to Manfredi. “For officer safety reasons,” all the men at the scene were detained and released after a short time, according to Manfredi.
Another male at the scene, identified as Michael Higginbotham, 25, of San Francisco, was subsequently arrested for narcotics possession for sales. The lawsuit claims that officers allowed Williams to approach the group of musicians, even though they believed he was armed. The suit states that officers could have, and should have, stopped Williams from approaching the group of musicians, yet allowed him to proceed and then used his arrest to justify the searches of all the other men.
The treatment of the African American males, the lawsuit states, was “subhuman.” In a footnote of the lawsuit, the attorneys Richard Richardson and Joel Siegal write, “SFPD officers would not have allowed a perpetrator that they perceived to be armed with a loaded handgun enter a group of innocent white people [for instance, executives at a Google Convention.]” Manfredi said today, “The detention for this whole incident was for a man with a gun…. NOT for making a rap video.” Once the police officers interrupted the music video, the camera kept rolling and the exchanges between police and civilians were captured in a video that was later uploaded onto YouTube. Officers moved in and immediately handcuffed Williams, according to the suit.
In the video, the rapper known as Yung Lott can be seen performing at a playground near the intersection of Harbor and Northridge roads when police come up behind the group and say “hands up” and then “everyone on their knees, now.” The video camera is placed on a playground structure and continues recording as the men are cuffed, searched and then made to sit on the ground. The video captures an officer photographing all the detained men as they sit with their backs against a wall. The officers also made the men lift their shirts for photographs of tattoos, according to the suit.
According to the lawsuit, the police officers completed certificate of release forms claiming the subjects were released after a one-minute detention, but the plaintiffs claim they were detained for far longer, approximately two hours. MacArthur is a 28-year-old professional videographer who was paid to shoot a music video for the other three plaintiffs, who are musicians, according to the suit. Stern, who performs professionally as rapper Yung Lott, paid MacArthur a fee to record a hip hop music video for his recently released single, “Demo,” according to the lawsuit. Stern suffered not only economic loss as a result of the raid on March 8, but also mental and emotional distress, damage to his personal and professional reputation, and violation of his right to free speech and peaceful assembly, the lawsuit states.
The other plaintiffs are McGowan, who performs professionally as rapper Joeski, and Andry, both of whom appear in the music video. In addition to the city and the police department, the lawsuit filed on the behalf of the four men names seven police officers and demands punitive damages. “Officers subjected each and every member of the group to an unreasonable search, seizure, arrest, conspiracy to arrest and humiliation at gunpoint,” the lawsuit maintains. The lawsuit claims that the officers racially profiled the men, in violation of state and federal laws.
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