Skip to main content

San Francisco police blasted over mass arrests of skaters

Jesus Yáñez called the mass arrests of young people a “failure of de-escalation” by the San Francisco Police Department at the Police Commission meeting on Wednesday. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

The show of force by San Francisco police that led to the arrests of scores of young people at an unsanctioned skateboarding event Saturday was a clear “failure” by law enforcement.

That was the assessment given by two members of the San Francisco Police Commission, Jesus Yáñez and Kevin Benedicto, at a heated gathering at City Hall on Wednesday evening, where dozens of people voiced their anger about the mass arrests.

Those who spoke out at the civilian oversight panel included the parents of youths who were detained and some of the minors themselves. They accused police of needlessly escalating the situation and of treating the young people cruelly.

“I’m embarrassed for our city,” Yáñez said at the meeting. “I am embarrassed for the actions that this department took to criminalize an activity, an outlet for young people that could have been contained, that could have been celebrated.”

The commissioners said they were troubled by the heavy police response to the annual event known as the “Hill Bomb” at Dolores Park. The Saturday evening gathering devolved into chaos after officers tried to prevent a crowd of skateboarders from flying down the hill on Dolores Street at dangerous speeds.

The mass arrests on July 8—the largest in recent memory—have raised questions about why a vast amount of police resources were spent to shut down an event heavily attended by skateboarding kids. Some wondered whether the police made the situation more dangerous than it would have been if the skateboarders were allowed to skate, while others questioned why police have not made the same show of force to clamp down on chronic problems such as drug-dealing.

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Police Chief Bill Scott has defended his officers, saying the department shut down the event to protect public safety and donned riot gear to protect themselves from a “riotous” crowd that attacked officers, set fires and vandalized passing trains. 

“Our officers were doing the job that they were asked and required to do,” Scott told The Standard in an interview Monday. “Nobody, I hope, is expecting an officer to stand on the line trying to protect the public unprotected while bottles and other objects are being thrown at them.”

Police said that in all, 81 minors and 34 adults were cited or booked on suspicion of various charges, including inciting a riot. Prosecutors have not yet said whether they will file charges against them.

While Yáñez called the situation a “failure of de-escalation,” Benedicto described it as a “huge step backward” for law enforcement and the city.

The way the episode unfolded was “absolutely unacceptable” and “a failure of everything that we … represent as a city and as a department we work for,” he said.

Police Commissioner Kevin Benedicto, right | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Both commissioners called for an internal police investigation to determine whether officers violated department policy. They encouraged people to file complaints with the Department of Police Accountability, a city agency that independently investigates allegations of police misconduct.

The department has already launched an investigation into at least one such complaint, The Standard previously reported.

Their comments came after the commission heard from dozens of people, including 16-year-old Eriberto Jimenez, one of the teens who was detained.

He recalled how he and the others were restrained with zip ties by police and forced to sit on the cold pavement for five hours in the dark without access to bathrooms, causing some of them to urinate on themselves. He was eventually taken up the street to Mission Station.

“It was a peaceful event until cops showed up with riot gear,” he said. “They showed up with batons; they showed up with rifles. Nobody was doing anything to the cops at all until they started pushing people away from an event that has been happening for years.”

Eriberto Jimenez, third from left, was detained at the "Hill Bomb." | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Ryen Motzek, president of the Mission Merchants Association, questioned why there was no outreach to the skateboarding community ahead of the event to discuss any safety concerns.

“Why not avoid the fire?” asked Motzek, who is a skateboarder himself. “That comes through coordination, recruitment, outreach.”

Police Commissioner Debra Walker was also troubled by the situation and called for better planning.

“The results of all of this are upsetting to everybody,” she said.

The discussion took place in advance of a full hearing about the arrests that is expected to be held at the Police Commission next week.

Scott said he plans to release a timeline of the evening’s events as well as body-camera footage.

“We understand the frustration; we understand the questions,” he said.

Jason Henry contributed to this report.