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
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