DELANO – The City of Delano in Kern County has approved a settlement with four high-school students who were harassed and attacked by police officers last year while walking through a residential neighborhood on their way to pick up prom passes.
The attack, caught on cell phone videos, included footage of one of the students being tackled, slammed to the ground, and handcuffed for doing nothing more than protesting the use of force against his friends for asserting their rights.
The settlement, which comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and the law firm of Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, calls for each of the students to receive between $30,000 and $35,000. The agreement also stipulates that Delano Police Department officers receive training to emphasize that they are prohibited from arresting members of the public for asserting their First Amendment rights.
“Although the unlawful arrest and excessive use of force continues to impact the students, this settlement agreement allows for some closure,” said Stephanie Padilla, staff attorney at the ACLU SoCal. “It also importantly recognizes the need to train officers that members of the community have a right to record them engaged in their official duties and that this, in and of itself, does not constitute cause for detainment or arrest.”
The incident involving the teenagers occurred on April 11, 2019 when the four students were walking toward the Wonderful College Prep Academy to pick up their prom passes. A police car pulled aside them as they walked and although they were not told to stop, an officer began asking them questions.
Some of the students asserted the right to remain silent and objected to the questioning, saying they had done nothing wrong. The police officers drove away, but when the students continued to cross the street the officers made a sudden U-turn and sped back, halting only a short distance from them. Two of the students began video recording the officers with their cell phones.
One of the officers slapped a phone out of a student’s hand and pulled him to the ground. Another officer tackled a student. Both students were handcuffed.
While this was happening, another student, Pablo Simental, stood to the side with his hands outstretched, not making any threatening gestures. He asked the officers why they were doing this to his friends. At that point an officer ran toward him at speed, body slammed him to the ground, and put on handcuffs so abrasively that Simental suffered pain for days.
Simental, who was the plaintiff in the lawsuit, was taken to the Delano police station and then Kern County Juvenile Hall where he was imprisoned for about eight hours before being released. He was not charged.
The lawsuit charged the police with false arrest and imprisonment, use of excessive force, and retaliation for exercising First Amendment rights. This violated not only the U.S. Constitution, but also the California Constitution that protects against unreasonable seizure in the absence of probable cause.
As part of the settlement agreement, the lawsuit will be dropped. The only crime any of the students were charged with was one of jaywalking — the City of Delano and its police department agreed to write a letter to the Kern County District Attorney and Kern County Superior Court recommending its dismissal.
Read the settlement here: https://www.aclusocal.org/sites/default/files/2020.10.13_final_settlemen... ###