Fifteen Tucson police officers have been named in a $3 million claim stemming from a February protest downtown that resulted in members of the crowd being pepper sprayed and pushed down by police.
The Feb. 16 rally and march outside the federal building on West Congress Street was planned by a local political group in conjunction with the National Day Without Immigrants, according to the claim, which was filed last month with the city.
Lucha Unida de Padres y Estudiantes organized the march to “highlight and object to the anti-immigrant views of the recently elected administration,” attempted federal Muslim ban at airports and nationwide efforts to step-up immigration raids, the claim said.
The event started at 4:30 p.m. with speeches against deportation raids that finished shortly before 6 p.m., when attendees tried to march across North Granada Avenue toward the event’s final location of Armory Park, the claim said.
Protest organizers and participants “had no intention to block the roadway,” but rather use the public roadway to “peacefully assemble and to express their grievances,” according to the claim.
Earlier in the year, large crowds of protesters marched through the streets of downtown for Inauguration Day and the Women’s March, with police making no attempts to stop people from walking in the road, the claim said.
While protesters at this event expected things to be the same, officers instead attempted to block the street and prevent the protesters from “using the public roadway to express their opposition of the new administration’s anti-immigrant policies,” according to the claim.
Instead of police vehicles leading the marchers, as had been done in previous protests, the cars “flipped around across both eastbound lanes of Congress, blocking vehicle traffic.” When protesters tried to walk around the vehicles, officers prevented them from doing so, the claim said.
“TPD officers physically arrested four protesters after dragging a screaming protester across the pavement, and officers Green and Guevara, and others discharged their department-issued pepper spray at claimants and others,” the claim says.
Because the identities of the officers involved were obtained through the police report of the incident, only last names and badge numbers were listed on the claim, said attorney Paul Gattone. The Tucson Police Department did not respond to the Star’s request for the two officers’ first names.
The claim says Green “violently pushed” one of the plaintiffs, 78-year-old Fritzi Redgrave, to the ground and lied about doing so in his police report.
TPD’s response prevented the protesters from “exercising their constitutionally protected rights of speech, assembly and requesting changes in U.S. deportation policy and local government cooperation with ICE agents in holding undocumented residents in custody,” the claim says.
By the end of the event, four protesters were arrested. Police took them to the Pima County jail, booking three on felony charges for assault of a police officer. Several weeks later, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall dropped the felony charges, the claim said.
In addition to the group and Redgrave, the plaintiffs in the claim are Zaira Livier Serrato, Edward Cott, Steffanny Cott, Brittany Fitzgerald, David Archuleta, Rolande Baker, Heidi Reynolds-Stenson, Lena Rothman, Josh Dunlap, Joan Cichon, Alexander Wycoff and Fiona Grugan.
The claim details different dollar amounts requested by each plaintiff, ranging from $150,000 to $350,000.
Cichon was one of the people charged with assaulting a police officer, which she denies in the claim, saying that she was trying to take a video of another person being arrested when Officer Green opened his vehicle door into her torso and knocked her off balance.
She told Green that he’d hit her with the door, but instead of responding, Green opened the door a second time, swinging it directly at Cichon, the claim said. The 68-year-old Cichon, not wanting to be hit by the door a second time, put her hands up to stop it, after which Green grabbed her and put her into handcuffs, according to the claim.
While there are 13 other officers named in the claim, Green and Guevara had the most involvement with the protesters, Gattone said.
The chaos that ensued could have easily been avoided if police had just let the marchers to proceed, Gattone said. “It would have been a minor disruption of traffic downtown,” he said.
The group is prepared to go forward with litigation if the city fails to settle the claim by Oct. 15, which is the 60-day deadline after which the statute considers the lack of response to be a rejection, Gattone said.
TPD is unable to comment on pending legal cases, said spokesman Sgt. Pete Dugan.
Police said previously the event was peaceful until many protesters entered the road and began disrupting traffic on Congress. An officer was struck from behind and when officers tried to take the suspect into custody, members of the crowd surrounded the officers and some protesters locked arms and stood in front of a police vehicle, according to Star archives. Three officers suffered minor injuries, police said at the time.
In April, the department said two officers were under investigation by the office of professional standards for the incident, one for using pepper spray. Dugan said Friday the investigation is still open.