ACLU Reaches Settlement With City of San Francisco in Case of Racially Biased Arrests

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SAN FRANCISCO – The City of San Francisco has agreed to financially compensate seven black men and women who were purportedly arrested for selling small amounts of drugs by the San Francisco Police Department, which targeted them for federal criminal prosecution because of their race, while ignoring people of other races engaged in the same activity.

In a $225,000 settlement, the City of San Francisco’s Department of Police Accountability will also be required to include a new category for “racial bias” on police citizen complaint forms. This key element of the settlement will make it easier for victims of racial profiling to seek redress.

“Our Constitution prohibits selective enforcement of criminal laws based on race, and yet this lawsuit concretely demonstrates how San Francisco Police Department officers have singled out black people for enforcement of drug laws,” said Shilpi Agarwal, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “This settlement compensates our clients for the harm they suffered, and also ensures that racially biased policing will be more effectively monitored in the future.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Northern California and the law firm Durie Tangri LLP filed the lawsuit in 2016 on behalf of seven people who were arrested in the Tenderloin neighborhood during a joint drug sweep undertaken by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California.

A total of 37 people were arrested, all of them black. This even though the Tenderloin is a diverse area where people of all races openly sell drugs, a fact that was observed and ignored by the officers who conducted the surveillance and undercover drug buys in these sweeps.

Those targeted were subject to prosecution under federal drug laws, which carry harsher penalties than state statutes.

“The federal prosecution I went through was extremely stressful mostly because I was faced every day with the possibility of having to leave my kids,” said Tiffany Cross, the lead plaintiff in this case. Cross said she hopes her lawsuit will help raise public awareness about the injustice of racial profiling and its impact on an individual and their family.

“The settlement victory is significant because what happened to our clients has been business as usual for the SFPD for quite some time,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “It sends an unequivocal message that SFPD will be held accountable when it engages in blatant civil rights violations of people of color.”

A copy of the settlement is available here.

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