An appeals court denied San Jose’s effort to remove individual police officers from a lawsuit filed by victims of violence at a 2016 rally in the city for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
An opinion filed today by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the panel affirmed the district court’s denial of immunity for the officers. The city sought to use “qualified immunity,” which protects police officers and government officials from civil damages, as a basis to drop the officers from the lawsuit.
But the panel ruled 3-0 in favor of attorney Harmeet Dhillon, saying qualified immunity was inapplicable because of the facts of the case. “Being attacked by anti-Trump protesters was only a possibility when the attendees arrived at the rally,” Judge Dorothy Nelson wrote in the opinion. “The officers greatly increased that risk of violence when they shepherded and directed the attendees toward the unruly mob waiting outside the Convention Center.”
The rally on June 2 brought 7,000 to 10,000 people to San Jose McEnery Convention Center in Downtown San Jose. Police allegedly told rally attendees to take an exit that was directly in the line of 400 people protesting Trump. Rally attendees were allegedly beaten, robbed, struck by eggs and bottles and insulted by the protesters in front of the officers, according to the suit.
The suit alleges that over 250 police officers didn’t help Trump supporters, or weren’t “permitted” to help them by law enforcement officials. Mayor Sam Liccardo, who was dropped from the lawsuit along with Police Chief Eddie Garcia, said at the time that 20 perpetrators were identified and numerous warrants were issued for arrest.
The Democrat mayor, an outspoken critic of Trump, denied allegations that his political alignment led him to condone or permit the violence. Dhillon said, “This is not an ideological decision, this is a decision based on the egregious facts in the case,” adding that anyone who watches videos of the violence can easily witness the facts. But the case against the large city will not be an easy one, Dhillon said. “It’s an uphill battle, we are David facing Goliath,” he said.
City Attorney Richard Doyle responded by saying his office disputes the court’s understanding of qualified immunity, as well as the plaintiff’s “version of the facts.” Doyle said his office is reviewing the opinion and will determine whether to appeal it “en banc” to an 11-member panel of judges in the 9th Circuit or the state Supreme Court.
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