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Alameda County bans some crowd-control weapons

OAKLAND -- Alameda County has agreed to ban rubber bullets, bean bags and less-lethal munitions for crowd control as part of a settlement after sheriff's deputies fired rubber bullets and injured two people protesting police brutality in 2020, the plaintiff's lawyer said Thursday.

Oakland police officers and Alameda County sheriff's deputies used tear gas to disperse demonstrators in Oakland during a June 1, 2020, protest and deputies started indiscriminately firing rubber bullets at the crowd, shooting Tosh Sears in the hip and Kierra Brown in the calf, according to a federal lawsuit against Alameda County and the city of Oakland.

Sears and Brown along with thousands of others took to the streets to protest police brutality and racial injustice after a white Minneapolis officer killed George Floyd, a Black man.

Since 2003, the city of Oakland has had a policy banning the use of rubber bullets and bean bags for crowd control unless there was an "immediate danger of death or great bodily injury." But the department allowed Alameda County Sheriff's deputies, who were assisting city officers during the protests, to fire impact munitions at the demonstrators, attorney Rachel Laderman said.

"Alameda County Sheriff was really the main actor in terms of using impact munitions in an indiscriminate manner, shooting willy nilly into the crowd," Laderman said.

The settlement restricts the sheriff's department's use of impact munitions and flashbang grenades to situations where it's necessary to defend against the threat to life or serious bodily injury or to bring a dangerous and unlawful situation under control, she added.

It also bans the use of shotgun fire munitions by both the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County Sheriff's Office and it makes all the restrictions apply not only to political demonstrations but any type of crowd event in the county, Laderman said.

Attorneys for the city of Oakland and Alameda County did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

The use of tear gas, pepper balls, flash bangs, smoke bombs and other less-lethal weapons became a flashpoint in the debate over policing in 2020 after dozens of incidents throughout the country of protesters being struck by projectiles or caught up in clouds of tear gas unleashed on mostly peaceful crowds.

In February, the Police Executive Research Forum, an organization dedicated to improving the professionalism of policing, said in a report the federal government should create guidelines on the use of less-lethal weapons by law enforcement.

In the lawsuit filed against Oakland and Alameda county, Sears and Brown said officers and deputies began teargassing the demonstrators without warning.

"Nothing will erase the emotional pain and terror I felt on June 1, 2020," Sears said in a statement released by Lederman. "I grew up with family members who were police officers, including my grandfather ... but I just don't feel safe around police as a Black man. I'm hoping this settlement is a small part of achieving some real change."

Sears and Brown will share $250,000 as part of the settlement.

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