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Two Santa Rosa police officers disciplined for use of force in George Floyd protests

Two Santa Rosa police officers were disciplined for their actions during last summer’s protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd.

Findings, which the Santa Rosa Police Department released Wednesday afternoon, showed that uses of force by Sgt. Michael Clark and officer Noel Gaytan during protests on Mendocino Avenue between May 30 and June 1, 2020, were not within the perimeters of department protocol.

Both officers were suspended for 20 hours without pay for firing projectiles that significantly injured people. Santa Rosa Police Chief Rainer Navarro issued memos on May 17 upholding the recommended punishments.

Gaytan hurt a Healdsburg man, Argelio Giron, who underwent emergency surgery to remove a ruptured testicle after he was hit by a rubber bullet on May 31. Gaytan fired a projectile that was not authorized for use in crowd control, according to the findings.

According to a complaint filed by Giron, he was filming a demonstration with his cellphone when he “felt a sharp pain in his groin.” He discovered he was bleeding from his groin area and drove himself to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a ruptured left testicle and two cuts to his genitals.

He spent more than a day in the hospital and was released on June 2, 2020. His attorney later told The Press Democrat the rubber bullets that hit his client were actually pieces of hard plastic weighing a couple of ounces.

Clark hurt Marquis Martinez, a Santa Rosa man who suffered facial injuries on June 1, 2020. He required multiple facial surgeries as a result of his injuries.

According to the report, Clark fired at protesters without evaluating where the projectiles might land in order to prevent injuries or striking unintended targets; he also did not properly document reportable use of force; and failed to meet expected performance standards.

The city reached settlements in civil rights lawsuits filed by Gaytan and Martinez last year.

Giron secured $200,000 in October, while Martinez was part of a joint suit involving four other people.

They were paid $1.9 million in April, and City Attorney Sue Gallagher told The Press Democrat it was the largest settlement in the city’s history involving a civil rights lawsuit and the police department.

On the same day the settlement was announced, Navarro told The Press Democrat that errors were made during the protests.

“But we have committed to correcting everything we can to ensure that those don’t happen again. We are committed to this process,” he said.

The injuries occurred during protests that joined others across the country following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020. Chauvin was convicted of murder in April.

Nationwide protests called for justice as Floyd’s death became a symbol for the excessive levels of police force placed on unarmed people of color in scenarios that usually carry less lethal consequences for white people.

Hundreds of people protested in Santa Rosa over several days and gatherings, at times, turned violent and resulted in downtown business and church windows being shattered while buildings were tagged with anti-police graffiti.

Protests continued even after the city issued a curfew as a result of the violence.

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at colin.atagi@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @colin_atagi.

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