Attorney Luis Carrillo filed the suit last week in U.S. Central District Court. The suit names the city, retired Pomona Police Chief Joe Romero, 14 members of the Police Department and 10 unnamed officers. Unspecified damages are being sought.
The suit was received last week by the city. "We're evaluating it and are not going to comment on an ongoing legal matter," said Mark Gluba, assistant to the city manager.
In the suit, Carrillo claims his clients' First Amendment rights to assembly, free speech to redress grievances as well as exercise religious freedom were violated along with their 14th Amendment right to due process.
The suit centers around an Aug. 21, 2008 meeting at the Centro Promesa de Dios on West Second Street. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the city's use of traffic checkpoints and to gather suggestions from the public on possible solutions. A heated verbal dispute ensued between off-duty Pomona police officers and members of the public.
Plaintiff and coalition member Angela Sanbrano said the outbursts prompted many attendees to leave. "They were visibly scared and afraid violence would break out," Sanbrano said. The presence of the officers and the behavior was a form of intimidation, she said. "In a democratic society this should not happen," Sanbrano said.
In the lawsuit, Carrillo said the city ratified the officers' civil rights violations in addition to showing "a deliberate indifference to the violation of civil rights." Carrillo said he waited to file the federal case to see if the results of an independent investigation ordered by the city into the matter would be presented to the public. The investigation, however, is not likely to have "any teeth" to it, Carrillo said.
The investigation "has not been completed, at this time," but the city anticipates it will be completed shortly, Gluba said. Just how much of the results will be released is difficult to say, since police personnel matters are protected by state law, Gluba said.
Carrillo said pursuing the matter was necessary. "We don't want Pomona to be turned into another Mississippi town," he said.