Fourteen Donald Trump supporters filed a federal lawsuit accusing San Jose police of failing to protect them from violent protesters after a campaign event last month.
The civil rights case seeks unspecified damages and class-action status for all Trump backers attacked after the June 2 rally for the Republican presidential candidate in downtown San Jose.
Plaintiffs claim the city’s response was weak and politicized, and that police complacency undermined their constitutional rights to free speech, peaceful assembly and due process. Police arrested 20 people after the protest and fielded two-dozen reports of assault.
City spokesman Dave Vossbrink said the city has yet to see the lawsuit filed by attorney Harmeet Dhillon, the vice chair of the California Republican Party.
One of the plaintiffs, 38-year-old Log Cabin Republican Juan Hernandez, says he emerged from the chaos with a broken nose and blood-spattered shirt.
“Walking out of the rally, you could see that it was like Armageddon,” the Santa Clara resident told San Jose Inside days after the event. “There were no boundaries, no rules, no officers enforcing public safety.”
On his way from the San Jose Convention Center to a nearby parking garage, Hernandez says, he watched other Trump supporters get physically attacked. Hernandez wore a blue “Make America Great Again” Trump hat and his friend—Dustin Haines-Scrodin, another plaintiff—wore a red one.
“We didn’t have time to take it off,” he said. “And as soon as we made eye contact with them, I was like, ‘Oh shit. This is it.’”
People began hitting him and his friend, he says—about five assailants wailed on him until his adrenaline kicked in and numbed him from the blows. When his nose cracked on someone’s fist, blood began spurting onto his clothes.
“Everyone kind of just froze,” he said. “So I grabbed my friend and we took off running.”
For an hour after the rally let out, the lawsuit claims, police did little to quell the violence and continued to direct Trump supporters toward the protesters. Frank Velasquez claims in the lawsuit that an anti-Trump demonstrator snatched the hat off of his son’s head. The protester, Anthony Yi, tried running away but fell at the San Carlos Street-Almaden Boulevard intersection. Velasquez’s son, Nathan, tried giving Yi a hand up.
“As Yi stood up, [he] struck Nathan in the head with his fist, causing … severe bodily harm, including a concussion and severe emotional distress,” the lawsuit states. “Yi also possessed a knife at this time.”
The notorious “egg lady”—a Florida bodybuilder and physical therapist named Rachel Casey—also figures into the case. After leaving the rally, she said, police directed her into a mob of protesters. After admittedly taunting them, she says she tried to get into a nearby hotel, but the security guards blocked the door. It wasn’t until people had thrown eggs, a tomato and a bottle of water at her that they let her inside.
The lawsuit says a 14-year-old boy and a 71-year-old woman were also attacked in full view of the police, who reportedly apologized for being unable to help them.
“The San Jose Police Department failed to declare the demonstration an unlawful assembly until a full 30 minutes or more of violent altercations had ensued,” the lawsuit claims. “It was not until approximately one hour after the Trump rally’s conclusion that police brought out megaphones and told demonstrators to leave or face arrest.”
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, a Democrat, blasted Trump for stirring up unrest and outright violence that local law enforcement has to break up.
“At some point, Donald Trump needs to take responsibility for the irresponsible behavior of his campaign,” the mayor told the Associated Press the night of the campaign rally.
Dhillon says in the lawsuit that Liccardo’s remarks indicate that the city’s reaction to the violence was influenced by the political viewpoints of San Jose’s policymakers.
In an interview with the Mercury News after the rally, San Jose police Chief Eddie Garcia called allegations that he told his officers to “stand down” absurd.
“I have a lot of control over my officers, but my officers do now know the meaning of the term stand down,” he told the newspaper last month. “They would not follow that order nor would I even expect them to.”
In a public statement before the rally, Garcia said he would “do everything possible to protect the First Amendment, those attending our community, and our officers.”
Many activists who staged peaceful demonstrations outside the event expressed dismay that the violence distracted from their goal, which was to denounce Trump’s exclusionary immigration stance, outspoken bigotry and other inflammatory rhetoric.
Click here to read a copy of the complaint.