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Santa Rosa to pay $1.9 million for injuries caused by police in summer protests

The City of Santa Rosa announced it will pay $1.9 million, including attorneys’ fees, to end a lawsuit brought by people who said they were injured by tear gas and projectiles police used during protests last summer over police practices.

Marqus Martinez and Michaela Staggs, who were seriously injured, according to court documents, originally asked the court to make the lawsuit a class action.

The settlement, which the city announced on Friday following negotiations that it said lasted all day Tuesday, involves Martinez, Staggs and three other plaintiffs.

Judge Vince Chabria of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California found in August that police may have violated the protesters’ rights to free speech and to be free from unreasonable searches and seizure, as provided by the First and Fourth Amendments.

In a November ruling that allowed the case to continue, however, Chabria dismissed the plaintiffs’ free-speech claims.

He distinguished the case from more common ones alleging “misconduct against one or two citizens” and said the city was more likely to be liable in this case because the claims stemmed from police activities during three days of protests.

Chabria wrote:

“When the department is executing an organized department-wide response, one can presume that the police chief was in control of his department, either directing that response himself or — at the very least — ratifying the actions of his subordinates.”

To assume otherwise, he ruled, would imply that the Santa Rose Police chief was not “meaningfully aware” of the department’s plan or the degree to which his officers’ actions conformed to it.

The case is No. 20-cv-04135-VC in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

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