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SFPD Releases Video Footage From Skateboarding 'Hill Bomb'

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A man wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt stand at a podium with another man standing to his right wearing a reddish shirt in front of a building that has a sign reading "City Hall."
SF Latinx Democratic Club President Kevin Ortiz speaks at a rally in front of City Hall before the San Francisco Police Commission meeting in San Francisco on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. SFPD arrested 83 minors on July 8 during the annual Dolores Park 'hill bomb,' creating outrage in the community. (Juliana Yamada/KQED)

San Francisco’s Department of Police Accountability and SFPD’s internal affairs division are separately investigating SFPD’s response to a youth-led skateboarding event that took place on Saturday, July 8, law enforcement officials said at a police commission meeting on Wednesday.

At this year’s Dolores Park “hill bomb,” more than 110 people — 83 youth and 34 adults — were detained for inciting a riot, as well as for remaining present at an unlawful assembly and conspiracy, after the annual skateboarding event was shut down by police. Most were cited for misdemeanors.

“If there’s one group that the police should be trained to deescalate, it’s with the youth, and there is no excuse,” said Kevin Ortiz, co-president of the San Francisco Latinx Democratic Club.

The hill bomb is an unsanctioned skateboarding event where skateboarders test their tricks down San Francisco’s steep hills. It is not permitted by the city and is organized mostly through word of mouth and social media.

Many parents on Wednesday expressed outrage over the militarized police response to the annual skateboarding event this year. Video footage from July 8 shows officers in riot gear pointing less-lethal rifles at teenagers in an attempt to close down the event.

A Black man with glasses and wearing a police uniform speaks into a microphone.
Police Chief William Scott speaks during a police commission meeting at City Hall in San Francisco on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (Juliana Yamada/KQED)

Nearly half of all youth arrested were Latino, according to demographic data shared by Chief Bill Scott at the police commission meeting on Wednesday. Scott says his department is reviewing its policies for detaining juveniles in response to the incident.

Officer body camera footage shows San Francisco police telling youth to disperse before the event spiraled into chaos. The videos show a can, a glass bottle and a firework launched toward officers. They also show an officer firing a less-lethal weapon at people climbing a Muni vehicle.

Officers discharged these “less-lethal” foam rifles 15 times that day, and used physical force to take down someone three times, Scott said. Only a small portion of the available video footage has been released. Footage of the juveniles’ arrests could not be shown due to state and local privacy laws.

Parents and youth who spoke before the meeting described the youth waiting for hours with their hands zip-tied without access to bathrooms or the ability to call their parents.

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One parent named Lisa E., who asked not to use her last name to protect her son’s privacy, said she was sitting with her son at home around 8 p.m. when he left to take a scooter to a friend’s house near the skateboarding event.

“They asked the policeman, where should we go? And the cops said, go that way. So they went that way right into the riot cops, where the riot cops grabbed the three kids,” she said to reporters before the commission meeting. “They were detained. They were told to stay. They were not allowed to call us. They were zip-tied and he was forced to stay with a group of kids, this very large crowd of kids, until 1:00 in the morning. No jacket.”

On Sunday, Lisa E. said, she received a call from the Juvenile Probation Department saying her son’s case had not been dismissed.

Jennifer Blanco, a trustee for the San Bruno Park School District, said that seven youth from her district were caught up in the arrests, including her own daughter’s friends, who spoke at the commission meeting on Wednesday.

One of her daughter’s friends included 16-year-old Lesley, whose last name is omitted for privacy concerns.

“I just remember when they were trying to close down the event, they were getting really aggressive. And when they closed the street they kept saying we are under arrest but not why,” Lesley told KQED. “Then they zip-tied us and put us on the busses. A bunch of people needed to use the bathroom and I got pushed into a seat and my elbow was bruised. The zip-ties were really tight. I don’t know why we were treated that way. There was a 12-year-old on our bus and she didn’t know why she was there. We had to wait until after we got processed to get a phone call. Probably like 12 to 1 in the morning.”

A group of people seated in an official looking building.
Community members attend a police commission meeting at City Hall in San Francisco on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (Juliana Yamada/KQED)

Lisa E. said the event has warped her son’s ideas on policing.

“He’s a good kid. He gets straight A’s. He volunteers at the rec center and his perspective is changed now,” she said. “It’s been altered of how he thinks about law enforcement.”

Charges against the majority of teenagers swept up in the mass arrest following the skateboarding event at Dolores Park will likely be dropped, Mission Local reports. Some families have already been told they won’t need to show up to a court hearing and the cases will be dropped, according to Ortiz.

But many parents at the commission meeting said they had not yet received that guidance. Many are still confused about the status of their cases.

“They never had any justification in the first place to charge these youth,” Ortiz told KQED. “For the majority of cases to be dropped like that, it clearly shows SFPD overreached.”

The San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department did not confirm the exact number of people whose cases will be dropped. Officials from the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office also did not confirm the number of youth whose cases would be cleared when asked by KQED on Monday.

At least one case involving an adult has been discharged, KQED confirmed.

“Each case will be assessed individually to determine if it can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Randy Quezada, communications director for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. “All avenues to ensure there is appropriate accountability will be explored.”

Youth probation officials said they are still awaiting results of the police department’s investigation into the incident.

Several people stand behind a person speaking at a podium.
Community members hold a rally in front of City Hall before the Police Commission meeting in San Francisco on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (Juliana Yamada/KQED)

“We are in the process of contacting all parents/guardians to let them know that we will reach back out to them when we have more information,” said Katherine Weinstein Miller, chief juvenile probation officer for the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department.

One attorney is exploring a lawsuit on behalf of the youth and families who believe they were wrongfully detained at the skateboarding event.

Rachel Lederman, senior counsel at the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, told KQED she had heard from multiple parents whose children were not even at the event but got swept up in the mass arrest when they were walking, or in one case riding a scooter, through the area.

“I’m just appalled by this,” said Lederman. “I’m talking to kids who were simply passersby or were trying to go home, just in the general vicinity of where the event had been when they were trapped between police lines, not allowed to leave, [[arrested] and detained in appalling conditions.”

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Supporters of the police crackdown on the event said that it has been problematic in the past. Injuries are common, and one death took place in 2020 when a cyclist collided with the hill bomb.

“They were correct to try to bring it to a speedy end,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, whose district includes Dolores Park. SFPD, he said, “will continue to need to do police work and I don’t think they could allow an event like this to go on.”

This year’s hill bomb caused public transit vehicles to come to a halt as participants and onlookers crowded streets. Photos show one group of teenagers climbing on top of a Muni train and spray-painting graffiti on its outside.

“There needs to be healing,” Ortiz said. “But there is a silver lining, and this kind of experience can lead to organizing that can push for more resources for young people”

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