A group of teenagers is suing over San Francisco’s police crackdown on the Dolores Park Hill Bomb, a yearly skating event that led to mass arrests this past summer of more than 100 people—most of them children.
Filed Tuesday and first reported by Mission Local, the federal class-action lawsuit claims police swept up scores of kids in an illegal dragnet and subjected them to “prolonged, inhumane outdoor detention.”
Parents of the four lead plaintiffs, aged 13 to 17, say the widely publicized ordeal—which unfolded from the day of the hill bomb on July 8 into the wee hours the next day—left their kids traumatized and never even resulted in criminal charges.
The San Francisco Police Department has yet to respond to a request for comment. Jen Kwart, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, said she can’t say much either.
“Once we are served with the lawsuit,” she wrote in an email, “we will review the complaint and respond in court.”
Rachel Lederman—a senior attorney with the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund who’s representing the plaintiffs with fellow lawyers Bobbie Stein and Gabriela Lopez—called the San Francisco Police Department’s response to the skating event striking for a number of reasons.
For one thing, she said the tactics were heavy-handed and outdated.
“It’s been ages since the San Francisco police have conducted a sweep, mass arrests like this one,” she told The Standard in a phone call Tuesday evening. “They used to do this in the 1980s and ‘90s … and I had done some cases with some mass arrests, where they sealed off blocks and just gathered up everyone indiscriminately. But they had pretty much stopped doing that for quite a long time.”
Then there’s the age of everyone involved.
“I don’t ever remember there ever being a mass arrest that included anywhere close to this many minors,” Lederman added. “More than 80 were under 18 and almost all the rest were 18 or 19 years old.”
And yet, she said, officers didn’t seem to know what to do with them.
Eighty-three of the 117 people arrested were children, Lederman noted. Some just happened to be walking by the park and had nothing to do with the event, she added. The vast majority of the underage arrestees were youth of color: 57 of them Latino and 20 of them Black.
The kids were kept for several hours without food, denied access to toilets and barred from contacting their parents, the lawsuit alleges. Many were dressed for a sunny day when police arrested them, Lederman said, and then left handcuffed in the cold as the night wore on, temperatures dropped and winds picked up.
“Parents were showing up because they were tracking their kids’ phones,” she said, “but police refused to let them talk to their kids and wouldn’t let them give their kids jackets.”
The last child wasn’t released until after 4 the next morning, Lederman said. One young teenager walked home by themselves at 2 or 3 in the morning, she added, and police released some of the kids to their parents without verifying legal guardianship.
“Pretty much every policy for detention of juveniles went out the window,” Lederman said.
A Lack of Planning?
The annual hill bomb, which draws hundreds of skaters and observers from throughout the Bay Area, has been marked by violence in years past.
In 2022, as Mission Local reported, people fought and someone got stabbed. Two years before that, a cyclist died after speeding downhill and hitting a skateboarder. In 2017, a cop knocked a skater off his board, resulting in a six-figure legal payout.
When crowds convened for the hill bomb this summer, they were met by cops in riot gear. Things reportedly escalated after a sergeant was cut on his temple while arresting a 16-year-old skater and the boy’s 15-year-old girlfriend.
In the weeks to follow, SFPD Chief Bill Scott defended his rank-and-file, more young adults and youth came forward with accounts of injuries they suffered that night at the hands of cops and a debate ignited over how law enforcement should respond to un-permitted events going forward.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday says SFPD knew about the event weeks ahead of time and should have been better prepared to deal with it.
“Despite the fact that this is an annual event that occurs in July, and with
three weeks advance notice of the exact date of this year’s event, SFPD did not attempt to make contact with the skateboarding community to discuss any safety concerns or make known any planned restrictions on the event,” the lawsuit states.
On the day of, SFPD and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency set up barricades but gave no indication that skateboarding was prohibited, the lawsuit continues. When skaters began to arrive, the claim says, police looked on as skaters soared down the hill by Dolores Park and the crowd swelled to about 200 mostly children and young adults.
Unlike in past years, police said the crowd ignored orders to disperse and began vandalizing Muni buses with passengers inside, according to video footage from the scene. Police say a sideshow ensued and the entire neighborhood devolved into chaos. Within a few hours of the event starting, police began rounding up scores of people and making mass arrests.
Mass Arrests, Prolonged Detention
The lawsuit describes how the four young plaintiffs—Jolina Tawasha, 13, Eriberto Jimenez, 17, Lucy Rios, 15, and Carmen Lopez, 15—were caught up in the chaotic aftermath of an event even though police lacked probable cause that they did anything illegal.
Jolina said she was corralled by SFPD officers who gave no orders or explanation. She said she told a cop her friend’s dad was waiting around the corner to pick them up, but the lawsuit claims the officer refused to let her go and responded with what she took as a veiled threat: “Just listen to what we’re going to say; we don’t want to hurt you.”
Eriberto, a skater who lives in the Mission, said in the lawsuit that he was sitting at the park when he heard the SFPD order to disperse. He complied with the order to leave Dolores Street, the lawsuit states, and went on to skate elsewhere.
Later that evening, while heading home, Eriberto said he was met by a line of officers pointing their weapons at his group of friends and preventing them from proceeding east toward Valencia Street.
“Despite the teens telling the officers that they were just trying to go home, the SFPD officers did not allow them to leave,” the lawsuit claims.
Hours before the chaos, the lawsuit says Carmen’s mother—who lives by Dolores Park—walked up to police and transit workers to ask if the barricades blocking the steepest part of the hill had been set up to protect or prohibit the event. “The San Francisco officers and workers said they did not know,” the lawsuit says.
Later that evening, Carmen said she was watching skaters with some friends when she heard SFPD tell everyone to disperse—but without specific instructions about where to go. She joined her friends as they left the park and headed back to Carmen's home, the lawsuit states.
“Suddenly police seemed to be everywhere, and the children were not sure which way to go,” the lawsuit states. “Around 8:15 [to] 8:30 p.m., SFPD officers began walking behind them, giving no further announcements or instructions, but moving everyone from 17th and Dolores toward 17th and Guerrero. Then, another line of SFPD officers blocked the way forward, trapping and surrounding them. The police did not allow Carmen and her friends to leave.”
Lucy said she was with a couple friends heading to another friend’s house when they ran into police on Guerrero Street yelling at them to turn around.
“When they complied, they were trapped between police lines,” per the lawsuit. “Lucy and her friends realized they were not going to be allowed to leave despite telling the officers their situation.”
At some point, the lawsuit continues, police announced over a megaphone, “You are all under arrest, sit down!”
“The children were confused,” the lawsuit states. “At first, Carmen thought it was a prank of some sort. Lucy and Jolina did not understand that they were actually being arrested until much later, when they were handcuffed.”
Officers initially told the kids they would get to go home in 30 or 40 minutes, the plaintiffs say, but night wore on.
“After sitting on the street for a while, some of the kids began to stand up, some needing to urinate, many asking the officers what was going on and when they would be allowed to leave,” the lawsuit says. “An officer told Carmen that she and others were being arrested because they had not all remained seated.”
SFPD officers using the color of authority to “sweep, trap, kettle, detain and arrest all persons present at the location, without notice, warning or opportunity to disperse,” per the lawsuit, then forced the children to endure prolonged detention without food, water or toilets.
“Hours went by and plaintiffs and other arrestees needed to urinate,” the lawsuit states. “Children implored the officers to allow them access to bathrooms but their requests were denied. They asked if they could relieve themselves behind a car, but the officers did not answer. At one point, police officers rushed at a youth who, after alerting nearby officers, went behind a car to urinate.”
Eventually, some of the kids relieved themselves on the street or in a bucket tossed from a window by a sympathetic neighbor. “Others were forced to urinate in their pants,” the claim alleges, “causing them shame, humiliation and embarrassment, and compounding their cold and discomfort.”
Though criminal charges never materialized, the plaintiffs say that in the ensuing weeks, they were wracked by uncertainty about how criminal charges would impact their futures and college prospects. And they say they now have anxiety about participating in skating events or other public assemblies.
The lawsuit names the police chief, Mission Station Capt. Thomas Harvey and tactical unit commander Lt. Matt Sullivan as defendants. The city has 30 days to file a response.