Discussion of Santa Rosa Police’s Response to Protests Delayed

When hundreds of North Bay residents poured onto the streets of Santa Rosa in late May and early June as part of this summer’s nationwide racial justice protests, officers from multiple local law enforcement agencies responded with force, injuring several protesters severely with rubber bullets and other “less lethal” crowd control weapons.

In one case, a crowd-dispersal weapon known as a sting-ball grenade broke a 35-year-old man’s jaw, causing him to go to a hospital for extensive reconstructive surgery. In November, the city paid $200,000 to a Healdsburg man who was shot with a rubber bullet in the groin while filming a May 31 protest. Other lawsuits are still ongoing.

The Santa Rosa City Council has yet to discuss the law enforcement’s response to the protests at length publicly.  The earliest that will happen is February or March, approximately nine months after the start of the protests.

All together, the council will discuss two reports currently being prepared by contractors and one published by the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights this summer. 

On Aug. 31, city officials signed an $80,692 contract with Hillard Heintze to complete an After Action Report (AAR). The report will offer a “high-level summary” of the city’s response to the protests between May 30 and June 5.

This report “is not designed to be a detailed investigation of any single or individual incident that occurred during the Events,” according to the city’s contract. And, although the contract’s scope of work acknowledges that the Santa Rosa Police Department received help from other North Bay law enforcement agencies during the protests, the original contract states that the report will not include a review of the actions of outside agencies.

Asked about this omission, Adriane Mertens, a city spokesperson, told the Bohemian that other local agencies, including the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and City of Petaluma, have since agreed to participate in the Santa Rosa AAR. Although it was scheduled for completion in October, work on the AAR was delayed by the Glass fire, since city officials were scheduled to meet with Hillard Heintze the week of the fire.

In September, the city signed a contract with a second outside consultant, the OIR Group, a law enforcement auditing firm. Under its $50,000 contract with Santa Rosa, OIR Group will “conduct oversight” of an investigation by the SRPD’s internal Professional Standards Team into “particular [use of force] events that occurred during the protests.” 

In short, the OIR Group will oversee the SRPD investigation into the department’s response to the protests and then offer its opinion on the strength of the SRPD’s self-review. At a November City Council subcommittee meeting, City Attorney Sue Gallagher said the investigation would focus on specific instances when law enforcement officers used rubber bullets and tear gas on protesters. The SRPD’s internal team may “take disciplinary action … depending on the results of the investigation,” according to the OIR Group’s contract.

The City Council will also discuss a report published by the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights in July. The report, titled “Human Right Violations in Santa Rosa California – Policing the Black Lives Matter Protests” is based on numerous interviews with protesters, public statements by local officials and press coverage of the protests.

Will Carruthers
Will Carruthers
Will Carruthers is a news reporter for the Pacific Sun and North Bay Bohemian. Email tips to [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @Carruthers_W.
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