Student protesters file claim against City College and SF citing injuries, defamation

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Student protester Otto Pippenger is filing a claim against City College of San Francisco and the city of San Francisco. Seen here, Pippenger describes the numerous injuries he sustained at the hands of the SFPD.
Photo by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Student protesters filed a claim against City College of San Francisco and the city and county of San Francisco today, citing excessive use of force by San Francisco Police Department and City College police officers.

The claim is a first step before filing a lawsuit against San Francisco, and was announced at a press conference earlier today [Tues/27] at City College's Ocean Campus. The two students filing the claim, Dimitrios Philliou and Otto Pippenger, may seek over $10,000 in damages, according to the claim. They allege they were physically and emotionally injured by police violence in a March 13 protest against City College's state-appointed Special Trustee Bob Agrella, who entirely replaced City College's elected Board of Trustees. 

The two students also asked for the college's chancellor, Arthur Q. Tyler, to retract his public statements they say casts blame for the violence on the protesters.

“I think everyone on the City College campus and in the larger community agree that violence is not a means to solving disagreement," Tyler wrote in an email addressed to the college's student body, faculty and staff shortly after the protest. The two students said they were defamed publicly to students and faculty.

"The public statement blaming protesters reached tens of thousands of people at the school I go to," Pippenger said at the press conference.

Tyler was not available for comment as he is on a business trip in Texas, his staff told us. City College spokesperson Jeff Hamilton would not comment due to the pending litigation.

The two students are represented by Rachel Lederman, the president of the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area chapter.

The protest erupted in response to the special trustee allegedly curtailing democracy at City College. The school is in a fight for its life, and Agrella's role is to see the college maintains its accreditation. But he said the urgency to save the school was sufficient reason to halt public meetings and public comments which used to be standard practice under the college's board.

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Previous coverage: Check out "Democracy For None," recounting the March 13 City College protest and the state of democracy at the school.

That removed an important place for students to decry policy changes, such as class cuts that harm the most vulnerable, Philliou and Pippenger alleged. Eventually, the protesters' cries reached Agrella and he partially restored public board meetings, though they are not broadcast nor recorded. 

It's a small victory, and it took the injuries of the two students filing claims, Phillou and Pippenger, to draw media attention to their plight. Philliou said students and faculty at the protest "were met by attacks from police and were beaten, brutalized, attacked, and arrested." 

He later experienced sleep deprivation, emotional torment, and has since felt unsafe while at school. Agrella refused to speak to him, Phillou said, and he was instead "met with brutality."

Pippenger described how he sustained his injuries speaking slowly, and methodically.

"At the height of the violence, right there," he said at the site of the conflict, pointing behind him to where he was beaten, "I was first struck repeatedly with fists, and then thrown to the concrete and restrained by a number of officers. I was then beaten on the pavement, insensate and unbreathing beneath five or six bodies, as one officer punched me in the back of the head and against the pavement. My fists were broken, and I sustained a concussion." 

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In the animated GIF above, student protester Otto Pippenger is held on the ground, face against the cement, while an officer throws a punch to the back of his head. The full video is at the bottom of this post.

It is SFPD policy not to comment once a claim has been filed, police spokesperson Officer Albie Esparza told the Guardian. The City Attorney's Office, who would represent the city and the police, had not yet seen the text of the claim. 

 

Since the protest, Tyler convened three open meetings aimed at improving campus discourse, and to gain insight into how to handle student demonstrations in the future. A newly formed school task force on "Civil Discourse and Campus Climate" has been appointed and will soon have its first meeting.

For more background, see our previous coverage of the bloody protest in "Democracy for None [3/18]."

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