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Oakland Police Chief Admits Reform Needed As Class-Action Suit Over Protests Looms

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- A new lawsuit set to be filed in the East Bay aims to change police tactics against protesters in Oakland.

The Oakland Police Department will soon be facing a class-action lawsuit over the use of rubber bullets and other similar tactics to break up protests.

Full Coverage: George Floyd Protests

The suit over use of force is set to be filed just as the department faces calls for long-term reform.

Overnight, the acting Oakland Police Chief wrote an open letter to the community, saying that they know they need to rebuild trust.

It has been nearly two weeks since the protests began in Oakland over the in-custody death of George Floyd.

Oakland police have released some preliminary numbers about the damage and arrests during the demonstrations

About 200 businesses were looted and 137 fires were purposely lit by arsonists. 30 first responders were injured and 300 people were arrested during the unrest.

Additionally, two federal security officers were shot early on in the protests, one fatally. There are reports linking Steven Carrillo, the U.S. Air Force sergeant suspected in a deadly ambush of two Santa Cruz County deputies, to the fatal shooting of that a federal officer in Oakland.

Oakland police defended the arrests and their actions, saying they gave ample warning before an 8 p.m. curfew. Police claim anyone remaining behind were part of an organized group of agitators, looters and vandals.

On Thursday, the National Lawyers Guild announced a civil rights class-action lawsuit, saying police used force on students who were marching into downtown and near the police department headquarters on May 29 and June 3rd.

The Guild is seeking an injunction to stop the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades against protesters.

They are also seeking damages for injuries.

"When they demonstrate their outrage after seeing the brutal, outrageous murder of George Floyd and the other people we've been seeing throughout the years, they are met with violent oppressive force in terms of physical contact, military operations by the Oakland Police Department," said civil rights attorney Walter Riley.

"When the police aren't there to instigate violence, then the violence doesn't happen. When the police aren't there targeting and tackling the people, the violence doesn't happen," said activist Cat Brooks with the Anti Police Terror Project. "The police are the problem, not the people. And that's what I hope this lawsuit unveils."

Overnight, Oakland Police Chief Susan Manheimer released an open letter to the community.

It said in part, "We recognize the importance of rebuilding trust in this period of unrest while the nation focuses on police brutality, most recently exemplified by the horrific incident in Minneapolis. We are evaluating the principles and policies proposed by various groups and organizations calling for changes in police practices. We have some of these practices in place now and commit to reviewing more of these proposals."

The National Lawyers Guild plans to formally file the lawsuit Thursday or Friday.

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