The family of an 11-year-old boy who was hit with pepper spray when a confrontation erupted between police and protestors following a fatal police shooting last month has filed a legal claim alleging excessive force and violation of the child’s rights, their attorney announced Wednesday.
The incident took place late on Aug. 15 at La Pintoresca Park, near the scene where Anthony McClain, 32, of Pasadena had been killed in a police shooting hours earlier.
At one point, protestors advanced on officers, according to the Pasadena Police Department. Officers used a Taser on a man after he threatened to “knock out” an officer, body camera video footage released by police shows. Another officer is then seen spraying pepper spray in the park as people run in different directions.
“Another officer just maced the crowd, which included my client,” attorney James Segall-Gutierrez said during a news conference outside the Pasadena City Hall Wednesday morning.
The mother of the child, Nafissa Kaba, later used her own pepper spray to spray the officer, police said. She was not arrested.
“The claim alleges that the Pasadena Police Department, in inviolation of our client’s First Amendments rights of speech and assembly, crossed into the park and maced him without justification,” the attorney said.
“They were not interrupting the investigation. They weren’t throwing things or interfering in any manner,” Segall-Gutierrez said. “[Police] had no reason to cross into the park and push people out, or into the center of the park. They just didn’t want to hear them saying, ‘Black lives matter.’ They just didn’t want to hear them saying, ‘stop killing Black men.’”
Police said an officer used pepper spray to keep back the advancing crowd as fellow officers took the man who had just been subdued with a Taser into custody.
“The crowd that gathered after the officer involved shooting was understandably emotional, and additional officers were called to assist with securing the shooting scene to prevent contamination of the evidence,” city spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said. “There were a few individuals in the crowd who became increasingly aggressive towards officers and as the situation escalated, officers used a Taser on one of these individuals after threats of violence were made and pepper spray was also used to disperse the encroaching crowd.”
“When it was learned the child had been exposed, paramedics were called, she said. “The child’s mother took the opportunity to spray officers with her own pepper spray as the officers were calling for paramedics.”
The child told paramedics that he was exposed to the pepper spray “when he ran towards the crowd of people who were sprayed with the pepper spray, to look for his mother who he believed to be involved in the altercation with officers,” Derderian said. “It is truly unfortunate that a young child was involved in this incident at all.”
The claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, seeks unspecified damages. But the attorney said it also sought institutional change within the department, alleging a pattern of mistreatment of people of color.
“We don’t just want the medical bills paid, we want reform in the city of Pasadena in the treatment of African Americans,” Segall-Gutierrez said.
The boy himself did not wish to speak with reporters about the incident.
“It affected him mentally and physically,” his mother said. “His eyes were burning really bad. He complained about his throat burning. I kept trying to clean his eyes out with water, but it didn’t go away for a few days.”
“He’s afraid of the police. He doesn’t really want to go to the park,” she said.
Under state law, the city has 30 days to respond to the claim before a formal lawsuit can be initiated.