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Santa Rosa settles third lawsuit with protesters injured by police during 2020 demonstrations

Santa Rosa will pay $105,000 to a protester who a city police officer shot in the forehead with a rubber bullet last summer amid protests against systemic racism and police brutality, bringing the total in damages paid out to people injured by police in the city’s protest response to $2.3 million.

The settlement is the third the city has reached with a combined total of seven protesters who sued over injuries sustained after the Santa Rosa Police Department used a barrage of rubber bullets and tear gas to clear downtown protests that authorities deemed unlawful assemblies amid national unrest over the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

The city settled with five protesters for a total of $1.9 million in April. In November 2020, the city paid $200,000 to protester Argelio Giron, a Healdsburg man who was shot in the groin with a round designed to penetrate physical barricades. Officers fired four of those rounds at protesters by mistake, according to internal investigations the department published in early June.

The latest case settled Aug. 5 with plaintiff Ryland Stamey, a 25-year-old Santa Rosa resident who said he was kneeling and chanting protest slogans with his hands in the air when an unidentified police officer shot him in the forehead with a rubber bullet. The round left Stamey with “severe lacerations and bruising,” according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court of Northern California, in San Francisco.

The rubber round left a small scar on Stamey’s forehead, his attorney, Patrick Buelna of Oakland, told The Press Democrat on Monday.

The rubber bullet caused Stamey to bleed profusely and left a large welt and dark bruise, still present when Stamey was photographed by The Press Democrat five days after he was injured.

The scar “is a reminder for the rest of his life of the unconstitutional acts of the Santa Rosa Police Department during the protests,” Buelna said.

Stamey could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Santa Rosa City Attorney Sue Gallagher said his case was the last stemming from the 2020 demonstrations that the city was aware of.

The officer who fired the round at Stamey remains unidentified. Buelna and Stamey are seeking release of the officer’s identity, the results of an internal investigation and any discipline or retraining the officer faced, Buelna said.

To do so, he may contest a conclusion by Santa Rosa police that the incident did not rise to the level that requires disclosure under a 2018 state law that mandates departments publish investigations into police use of force that causes death or serious bodily injury.

Use of a firearm also triggers the publication requirement, among other conditions. The 40mm launchers that fire rubber bullets and other “less lethal” rounds are not considered firearms, Mahurin said.

The Santa Rosa Police Department launched its internal investigation into Stamey’s injury before the lawsuit was filed, department spokesperson Sgt. Chris Mahurin said. The probe was spurred after Stamey was featured in a June 7, 2020 Press Democrat story about protester injuries, Mahurin said.

That investigation concluded a policy violation had occurred, Mahurin said. The department would not reveal the nature of that violation, the officer’s name and any consequences he or she might face.

“Generally,” Mahurin said, the department responds to a finding of a policy violation by assigning training or a disciplinary action to the officer involved.

In addition to lawsuits, the police department’s response to the unprecedented civil unrest in Santa Rosa has been the subject of acrimonious public meetings and three reports — two by city-contracted consultants and one by the Sonoma County Commission of Human Rights.

One of those reports, by the Los Angeles-based OIR Group, found the department’s use of force fell within policy, but highlighted that those policies could change, and that law enforcement’s aggressive response had heightened tensions.

Meanwhile, a report by the county’s Commission on Human Rights, a panel appointed by the Board of Supervisors, accused SRPD officers of human rights violations.

The department’s internal investigations resulted in the discipline of two officers and outlined how the department had purchased “barricade rounds” designed to penetrate windows and walls that were similar in appearance to rubber bullets designed to stop crime suspects without killing them.

After midnight on May 31 — same day Stamey was hit with the rubber bullet — officers working to clear protesters under a city curfew imposed to protect downtown fired four of the barricade rounds after two canisters of them were brought to the front lines of the skirmish between protesters and police. Giron, the Healdsburg man, was the lone person hit by the barricade rounds. He lost a testicle as a result of the injury.

Officers also were found to have targeted individuals in the crowd with rubber bullets and other authorized munitions, a show of force that amounted to “a confrontational exercise of state authority” that further fueled the protests and stoked hostility toward police from those in the crowd, investigators concluded in the 23-page OIR Group report commissioned by the city.

“We have got to be better, period,” Mayor Chris Rogers said in April when the report was released.

Vandalism during the protests included broken windows and some graffiti —far less extensive than damage in major U.S. cities. The city has yet to provide a dollar estimate for that damage.

The city held two special meetings in May on those reports and the police department’s response. At those meetings, police Chief Ray Navarro and his top captains outlined changes that included supervisors tracking the use of force during protests and stricter rules for use of less-lethal munitions.

Santa Rosa City Council’s Public Safety Subcommittee continues to consider policy changes based on the protest response, said Councilwoman Victoria Fleming, who chairs the committee.

“It is commendable that the department put so much effort into their response and yet for so many in the community it may feel insufficient,” Fleming said.

“Fundamentally the police department wants to do good work and doesn’t want to be accused of excessive force or first amendment violations,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88

Andrew Graham

City of Santa Rosa, The Press Democrat 

As Sonoma County's largest city, Santa Rosa, its policy and politics, crime and its economy affect the lives of North Bay residents both inside city limits and beyond in ways both obvious and unseen. I aim to document those impacts and give voice to city residents.

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