A civil rights attorney says the San Francisco Police Department illegally detained a Black 13-year-old.
Famed local attorney John Burris is suing the City and County of San Francisco because of that incident, saying the agencies’ employees violated State statutes and civil rights laws and that those employees were not properly trained.
The lawsuit refers to the boy as "M.C." but his full name is Michael Coleman.
Burris says the 7th grader was waiting for his tutor outside Sterne School around 1:00 p.m. on March 15th. Sterne is an independent day school with kids in grades 4-12 located on Kearny Street, between Washington and Jackson Streets. The boy's tutor, Jeanne Wilton arrived, and Michael put his backpack inside her car.
Burris says suddenly, San Francisco Police Sergeant Parra ran up, shouting, “Get out of the car, put your hands behind your back.”
“Parra then violently grabbed M.C. Parra held M.C.’s arms behind his back,” despite Wilton telling the officer the boy was only 13 and that he was only coming home from school, the lawsuit says.
"My son has been traumatized by the police officer's attack. As his mother, I am horrified that this happened to my son, who is loving, carefree, polite, and well-mannered," said the boy's mom, Delores Coleman in a news release Burris' office sent to SFist. "He doesn't understand why this happened to him when he had done nothing wrong... Since the incident, my child is fearful about returning to school. He is embarrassed and wonders what his friends will think about him."
The School Counselor for Sterne, Rebecca Chao arrived on scene with Melissa Meyers, the Head of School. Both corroborated that the boy had been in school all day.
In a statement sent to SFist, Melissa Myers called the incident disturbing and says Sterne School has filed a formal complaint with the San Francisco Police Department.
"Several staff members and our security guard witnessed the event and stepped in to support the student. This student was simply exiting the school for the day, and did nothing wrong," said Myers.
The lawsuit says Sgt. Parra refused to let the child go, explaining that he fit the description of a suspect who was described as having “black pants, a black hoody, and red shoes.”
Burris says Parra didn’t have any information regarding the age, size, or complexion of the person he was looking for. Moreover, the child Parra detained had black shoes with red shoestrings, not red shoes, and his pants had a large picture of Disney’s Micky Mouse printed on them.
"The most galling aspect of the officer's conduct was his continued efforts to interrogate the student and falsely wrote on his report that the boy was released after 1 minute, which, according to many witnesses, was not true," said Burris in a news release, explaining the boy was detained for close to 30 minutes.
Burris says Sgt. Parra detained a kid based solely on his race. He says the San Francisco Police Department was “deliberately indifferent to [Michael's] safety” and that officers inflicted cruel and unusual punishment and assaulted the boy, failing to exercise due care and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.
“As a result of the incident, M.C. was humiliated by Sergeant Parra,” the lawsuit says. “M.C. suffered serious emotional trauma. He also missed many days of school. Further, M.C. developed significant anxiety, particularly around interacting with police. M.C. also began suffering from uncontrollable stress and crying due to Sergeant Parra’s actions.”
The lawsuit is seeking a claim over $25,000.
"Any reasonable police officer would have noted the surroundings and that this was a school and was in front crossing the sidewalk, thus easily determining where the boy was coming from and who he was with instead of adopting a "Rambo style" of running at, yelling and attacking first," said Burris. "This conduct was shameful, and this type of policing contributes to the negative attitudes that young African Americans have toward the police."
SFist reached out to the San Francisco Police Department for comment, but was directed to the City attorney since the litigation is ongoing.
"The City strives to foster trust between law enforcement and local communities. We will review the claim and respond appropriately," the City Attorney's Office told SFist in a statement.
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images