SJPD Maims Activist Who Helped Train Officers About Implicit Bias

When San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo addressed crowd-control methods used by police during the first few days of anti-brutality demonstrations in a video posted to Twitter Friday, he said officers are trained to fire rubber projectiles toward the ground to disperse unlawful gatherings. The biggest risk, he suggested, is ricochet.

And while he cited studies that have documented critical rubber-bullet-caused wounds in “other cities,” Liccardo, in a tweet Friday, notably neglected to mention the “serious injuries” in his own jurisdiction.

When SJPD Capt. Jason Dwyer fielded question about the tactic at a press conference a couple days earlier, he said anyone hit was a “peripheral target.”

But one of those “peripheral targets” happens to play a pivotal role in the community—and with South Bay law enforcement specifically. Derrick Sanderlin—a 27-year-old African-American man who spent the past few years helping SJPD officers understand their own biases and build public trust—came away from the first day of San Jose’s George Floyd protests severely, and potentially permanently, maimed.

The incident happened around 6:25pm on May 29 by First United Methodist Church across from City Hall. The civil rights activist said he witnessed cops shooting rubber rounds from riot guns at protesters, including at a young woman who stood at what appeared to be a dangerously close range.

According to ABC7, which broke the story Friday, Sanderlin couldn’t bear to watch, so he walked over to stand between the skirmish line and protesters, put his hands up to signal peaceful intentions and implored cops to stop the assault. (Click through to the second video on the Instagram post below to see footage of at least one angle of the encounter.)

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San Jose unlawful assembly | May 29, 2020 | San Jose PD declared an unlawful assembly in front of city hall after hundreds of protestors took over city streets along Santa Clara Street. Officers in riot gear could be seen standing in line attempting to disperse crowds. For unknown reasons a SJPD Officer was knocked out of consciousness, the officer had to be dragged away by other officers at the scene. As demonstrations continued to protest officers were seen shooting rubber bullets and other projectile at the demonstrators. Officers could also be seen using their batons to push demonstrators back from the street and attempting to control the situation. #georgefloyd #justiceforgeorgefloyd #georgefloydprotest #georgefloydprotests #sanjoseprotest #sanjoseprotests #sanjosecityhall #santaclarastreet #sanjosepolice #sanjosepolicedepartment #protest2020 #georgefloydriots #aiofilmz

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Video of the encounter shows officers aiming their riot guns on Sanderlin. Though he seems to make no sudden movements, police shoot numerous rounds—one of which hit ruptured a testicle. Eyewitness footage from various angles shows Sanderlin, hands held high, facing the line of riot-gear-clad police from about a dozen feet away.

A few officers commanded him to move, but Sanderlin stood his ground, worried that police would continue their forceful advance on the demonstrators behind him.

A cop reportedly asked if he’s really not going to get out of the way. Sanderlin responded by shaking his head side to side and lowering his protest sign from overhead to in front of his chest. Then, he braced himself for whatever came next.

Though aiming rubber baton rounds at the groin is expressly prohibited, the officer shot Sanderlin between the legs. In his ABC7 interview, he called it “the most painful experience,” saying it knocked him to the ground.

The rupture required emergency surgery, after which doctors reportedly told Sanderlin and his wife of four years that he may never have children.

SJPD has not disclosed the identity of the officer who fired at Sanderlin. Mayor Liccardo waited until a day after hearing about what happened on ABC7 (some eight days after the incident) to address the injury, saying on Twitter that what happened “is wrong” and that he’s proposing a ban on rubber bullets. Chief Eddie Garcia apologized in a phone call to the activist on Thursday.

“I called Derrick today to see how he is doing,” the chief said. “We are both men of faith and I am praying for him. Derrick has been a real leader in our communities’ efforts to reduce bias and discrimination through dialogue. I assured him we will be investigating this incident. We have already begun to evaluate how we deal with crowd control situations to include how we deploy projectile impact weapons during a confrontation.”

SJPD spokesman Sgt. Enrique Garcia provided the following statement in response to a request for comment: “The San Jose Police Department will investigate all complaints in a timely, legal and ethical manner. As such, we will investigate Mr. Sanderlin’s incident. We have already begun to evaluate how we deal with crowd control situations, to include how we deploy projectile impact weapons during a confrontation. All allegations or concerns of the public will be taken seriously. Complaints may be filed with the department’s Internal Affairs Unit or the Office of the Independent Police Auditor.”

Sanderlin’s attempt to de-escalate tensions between police and demonstrators outside First Methodist marked the second time that day he tried to intervene to keep the peace.

Earlier in the afternoon, when hundreds of protesters had overtaken Highway 101 and brought traffic to a stop, Sanderlin said he helped escort a driver to safety. Protesters had reportedly targeted the guy’s car for having a Blue Lives Matter license plate frame, something the motorist said was a just a way to avoid speeding tickets.

Sanderlin says he wanted to keep things peaceful and put himself in harm’s way only in the interest of doing so. But the response he saw has shattered much of his faith in the police department, whose leadership has long touted its progressive credentials.

“I think we have a long way to go, but I’m not giving up,” he told San Jose Inside in a brief phone call on Saturday. “And I’m hopeful that we—that the community’s—voice is loud enough that we’re heard.”

Sanderlin is represented by civil rights attorney Sarah Marinho and plans to sue the city and its police department for excessive force.

The prospect of being possibly robbed of the ability to have children has yet to fully sink in, Sanderlin told San Jose Inside. “I can talk about it intellectually, but it’s hard for me to process, you know. A lot of people in my community—black folks—they say don’t say it or else it’ll make it true. Although I don’t carry that sentiment intellectually, I certainly carry it emotionally. Especially since [my wife and I] had been thinking about and finally talking about having kids just a couple weeks before the protests.”

The city’s silence on the fact that so many of its own residents were hurt by SJPD crowd-control tactics has been a source of consternation this past week, Sanderlin added.

“What’s frustrating for me has been how there’s just no admission that people were maimed,” he said. “People have now been putting my name out there, but my hope is that other names are lifted up as well. Because I’m not the only one. Just because they say this is wrong, that doesn’t mean all the other incidences of violence were justified.”

Throughout the nation, reports of police indiscriminately firing rubber rounds at protesters have shocked the collective conscience.

In Dallas, a man lost his left eye after police shot him with so-called less-than-lethal projectile. In San Jose, numerous demonstrators posted photos of massive bruises and split skin from the pellet-filled bean bag rounds and black foam-capped baton bullets aimed at the crowds from May 29 and on through the next couple of days.

On Thursday, a group of California lawmakers has vowed to introduce legislation that would set clear standards for such crowd-control methods.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) was joined in announcing the legislation by Assembly colleagues Shirley Weber (D-San Jose) and Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) as well as state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). Though the proposed law has yet to be written, the four lawmakers said they want it to limit the use of rubber bullets against peaceful protesters and people breaking citywide curfews.

The lawmakers cited a 2017 study co-authored by researchers from various universities, including UC Berkeley, which found that about 15 percent of people struck by rubber projectiles sustained critical injury—some of them fatal. Under existing regulations, less-than-lethal weapons makers have no obligation to maintain records on the safety of their products in field trials or in the line of duty.

The legislation, which is expected to be introduced in the coming week or so, will also impose requirements for the state to collect data on injuries inflicted by rubber bullets. Currently, the state lets local law enforcement agencies set their own rules on whether to use rubber bullets and their ilk, and how to use them.

Come Tuesday, the San Jose City Council will hear from SJPD about its own standards and ask for some justification for tactics used this past week.

DEVELOPING: Authorities are responding to protesters in San Jose https://bit.ly/3cmKLKV

Posted by KTVU Fox 2 on Friday, May 29, 2020

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

16 Comments

  1. Here are simple instructions;
    Obey Police orders and or commands and you won’t be hurt.
    Failure to follow the above and you assume the risk.
    Personally, I do not care one iota what happens to you-especially those that block roadways and freeways.
    Confine your “protests” to the ballot box.
    David S. Wall

    • > Confine your “protests” to the ballot box.
      Huh? What about the Constitutional right of assembly? Why does David Wall hate the US Constitution so much?

      Also note that Mr. Sanderlin was not on the freeway when he was shot by that one coward of the SJPD. Mr. Wall should learn to stick to the story at hand.

      The ABC7 report also mentioned little Officer Yuen and his aggressive posturing and tactics. Could it have been him that shot Mr. Sanderlin? I’m sure we’ll never know, right Chief Garcia?

      To Mr. Sanderlin: Thank you for the work you do educating the members of the SJPD, and here’s hoping for your full recovery.

  2. I liked that demonstrator in the short green shorts. She demonstrates quite a spectacular figure. She can demonstrate any time she wants as far as I’m concerned.
    Interestingly, there are lots of nice tans and halter tops being demonstrated in these protests. Quite a show.

  3. This video is the most complete footage that I’ve seen, thank you for sharing it and to the cameraperson for filming it.

  4. I watched the entire video and several words came to mind, none flattering to SJPD and its performance. The word that keeps coming back to me is disgraceful. Three people are prominent in the video: an older black dude wearing an ugly sport coat, a thin black woman in jeans and a white spaghetti strap top, and Galt’s favorite, the woman in the green shorts. She was eventually arrested, but it’s unclear from the video why she was arrested. At several points in the video both women are seen talking to the cops who are very close to them. The black dude seems to be a calming presence in the crowd. At no time was there a level of violence to justify the use of the rubber bullet guns, which many of the officers seemed to be firing with gusto and for no apparent reason. The crowd was very dispersed, overwhelmingly peaceful and non threatening. All they were doing was shouting, and that was just the few dozen up front. The rest of the crowd was just milling around aimlessly and peacefully.
    I do not believe the rubber bullet option should be taken from the officers for crowd control, but it is abundantly clear to me that every one of the officers who fired those weapons on that day needs a long refresher course on the appropriate use of that crowd control weapon. This particular crowd did not need controlling and never posed a threat to anyone. I have written elsewhere on this site that in my opinion rioters and looters should be confronted by a squad of a dozen or so cops who should fire on the rioters and looters in volleys. I still believe that. But with that crowd on that day in that place, there was ZERO justicfication for discharging those weapons. It seemed to be fire at will; some fired, most didn’t. Did a command officer give an order to fire, or was it just fire at will?
    Every few minutes an officer came on over a bullhorn and declared the assembly to be unlawful. It sounded like his name is Avila but I’m not sure. He’d read the same stupid script from a card or something declaring the assembly unlawful. The big breach of the law at that time and place was blocking East Santa Clara Street, not exactly the crime of the century. What was his rank that he had the authority to declare a peaceful assembly unlawful?
    Who was the tactical commander on scene? He should be busted down at least two ranks. About an hour into the video someone must have given the order to move the crowd West from 8th and Santa Clara to a point west of 4th and Santa Clara. Huh? That movement put the crowd at the city hall plaza by the R2D2 building, which spread the officers thinner. It did allow city workers a great view of the proceedings from the higher floors, and a great photo op for them. It also herded the crowd toward the central business area of DT SJ. If the crowd had to be moved, it should have been moved further east on Santa Clara Street, not west.
    I write all of this as a person who believes that rioters and looters should be dealt with swiftly, decisively, and violently if they do not obey a single command to stop their rioting and looting. But this was not such a crowd, and they were dealt with shamefully, disgracefully by many of the officers on scene who acted as if they were fresh from the academy and had no crowd control training at all, and were led by a commander who seemed to be MIA.
    As for the protesters that day who chanted “no justice, no peace”, that chant is the opposite of peaceful protest. It’s a threat of violence. Stick with “I can’t breathe” or “hands up, don’t shoot”. Also, pick another person than George Floyd to be your hero. Although Floyd definitely did not deserve to die for passing a fake twenty and being higher than a kite on meth and fentanyl, George is no hero. He is more like Michael Brown than Emmitt Till. He was a five time loser, all felonies, the most egregious being holding a pistol to a pregnant black woman’s abdomen in her home as his homies stole her property. For that he did a five year bit in Texas. That seems to me to be a light sentence for a guy who was already a four time loser, especially inTexas.
    Hopefully, further protests will be primarily peaceful, and those people will be left alone while the cops go after the bad actors like rioters, looters, and Antifa. Hopefully it will not take the usual endless months to get any and all appropriate changes effected in police crowd control, as is the usual case in process-driven SJ. Hopefully the trigger happy officers on the scene that day and that time will receive further training and will get a tactical commander who can tell the difference between a group of peaceful protesters and rioters, and will have the balls to take on the rioters rather than the low hanging fruit.

  5. To listen to City leaders cited in this article, you’d think they have no say in the matter as to how the police operate in their City. Liccardo openly says that the City Charter does not allow him to fire any City employee, including police officers. In fact, the City Council is responsible to set and oversee police doctrines and methods in the same way that the federal civilian leadership in the Congress and the foreign service enable and supposedly oversee the doctrine, aims and methods of the armed forces.

    The very labor agreement between the City and the Police Officers’ Association, the so-called Memorandum of Agreement (January 1, 2017–June 30, 2020), states this clearly: “…[T]he City retains all rights, powers and authority granted to it or which it has pursuant to law or other provisions of the City Charter including, but not limited to: the right to direct the work force; increase, decrease or reassign the work force; hire, promote, demote; discharge or discipline for cause; or reclassify employees; provide merit increases; assign employees overtime and special work requirements, and to determine the necessity, merits, mission and organization of any service or activity of the City or any City Department Agency or Unit” (p. 26) (https://www.sanjoseca.gov/home/showdocument?id=32017).

    Even section C 1307 of the Police Department’s own Duty Manual states: “Department members will strive to be responsive to the needs and problems of the community consistent with the Department’s mission. While the law governs the Department’s task, the policies formulated to guide the enforcement of the law must include consideration of the public will. This responsiveness will be evident at all levels of the Department by a willingness to listen and a genuine concern for the problems of individuals” (http://www.sjpd.org/records/dutymanual.asp, p. 64).

    (Neither the Memorandum of Understanding nor the Duty Manual say anything about the proper purpose, role or function of the police or policing. They are silent on the most consequential of questions; namely, why should we have police at all and why should the police force be structured in the way that it is. Try searching for the word “purpose” in either document.)

    Yet City leaders demure and defer to the Police Department in the same way our “leaders” in Congress do to the Defense Department and the intelligence agencies. The last time a checked, the U.S. is neither a military dictatorship nor a police state, although the compromised political class that takes money from the very same interests that they supposedly command and oversee is playing footsie with those scenarios all the damned time. In fact, 6 of 11 council members did not sign on to the very timid proposal to review police crowd control measures, even after a week of some serious events with serious implications for the well-being of our city (https://www.sanjoseinside.com/news/san-jose-mayor-asks-sjpd-to-justify-projectiles-tear-gas-other-crowd-control-tactics/).

    That the majority on the Council couldn’t bring themselves to support this measure is strongly suggestive of the obvious conflict of interests: the Police Officer’s Association is a campaign donor to the very same politicians who are responsible to oversee their mission and organization. You can dig through some of the data on such contributions by the Association, and by every other major vested local elite interest using the data sources used in https://maplight.org/story/campaign-funding-in-silicon-valley-spotlight-on-san-jose/. Police violence and brutality are merely by-products and reflections of a local and national power structure engendered by and committed to a vastly disparate distribution of material wealth. Ultimately, the masses in the streets are up against that power structure. The police are merely the first line of d served by the police in the first instance.

  6. Multiple times, Mr. Sanderlin has put himself in harm’s way to protect innocent people. When he was seriously injured, he was again attempting to diffuse tension and deescalate a violent situation. That’s what the police are supposed to do. Instead they chose to vacate their duty to protect and serve, so Mr. Sanderlin stepped in. It is so sad that he and his wife are paying such a steep price.

  7. This is the first time I learned that protestors on 101 were physically harassing other innocent citizens, as a quick little side-mention. That’s disturbing.

  8. Liccardo was recently REeducated by the NAACP. Looks like the police department could use some training too. Since when do the police in San jose shoot at citizens? I’ve been protesting on the streets for decades. This rubber bullet thing is new. That was Oakland’s claim to fame. They shot a girl doing yoga and a combat veteran During the Bush era. It cost Oakland millions. And now these rookies Garcia and Liccardo do the same thing. Hard to make this kind of stupid up….

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