San Francisco – Otto Pippenger and Dimitrios Philliou, CCSF students who were injured and arrested in a violent attack on student demonstrators by San Francisco Police and City College Police on March 13, 2014, have filed tort claims against the City and County of San Francisco and against the San Francisco Community College District. Their attorney, National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area President Rachel Lederman, explained that the claims are required under state law as a first step before suing the City and County or the College and their employees in court.

Video by Jacob Crawford of WeCopwatch

On March 13, 2014, CCSF students held a demonstration calling for the resignation of Special Trustee Robert Agrella and the reversal of a new tuition policy put in place in response to the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)’s decision to terminate CCSF’s accreditation. After a rally, the students marched to the administration building, Conlan Hall, a traditional site of student protests and sit-ins which is open to students and the public. To the students’ surprise, CCSF Chancellor Arthur Tyler ordered Conlan Hall closed to the demonstrators, and called in the San Francisco Police as well as the San Francisco Community College Police.

When students attempted to enter the building, the police responded with violence, hitting and shoving multiple students. Officers broke both of Otto Pippenger’s wrists with baton blows and punched him in the back of the head, slamming his face into the concrete and giving him a concussion. Dimitrios Philliou was thrown to the ground, choked and pepper-sprayed. Pippenger and Philliou were arrested and incarcerated until the early morning. Neither has been charged with any crime, but Chancellor Tyler issued a public statement on March 14 accusing the students of violence, and administrators have threatened the students with college discipline.

Explaining that students came to Conlan Hall to protest peacefully, Lalo Gonzalez, Student Senator said, “The accusations against the students are completely unfounded: scores of witnesses and video footage clearly show that all physical assaults were by police against students - not the other way around.”

“We demand that the chancellor retract his March 14 statement accusing student protesters of ‘engaging in violent outbursts’, and that his office make a public apology concerning the administration’s actions that day,” said student Sharon Shatterly, also a member of the Save CCSF Coalition, adding, “The removal of the elected Board of Trustees has resulted in many changes that are detrimental to students. Apparently, this includes new policies restricting freedom of speech on campus. The newly appointed Chancellor is making many such decisions behind closed doors, in violation of the Brown Act, without student input.”

“The police came in and started hitting people right away,” said Otto Pippenger, a first year CCSF student. “I was hit with a stick, dogpiled, punched in the head and held in jail all night. The concussion has really affected my schoolwork this semester. I am afraid of retaliation by the administration, but I want to continue to stand up for City College to remain an institution where the disenfranchised can get the tools to realize their dreams.”

Dimitrios Philliou described how the police held his face and pepper-sprayed it. “It was extremely painful. I couldn’t breathe and my face was on fire. There are so many ways that this whole incident could have been avoided.”

“The college administration has announced plans to hire an independent investigator to review this incident, but we have doubts about such an investigation in light of the Chancellor’s comments,” said Lederman. “We’ve conducted our own investigation and it is clear that both police agencies engaged in unconstitutional, excessive and unnecessary force. Both Otto and Dimitrios were seriously injured and have ongoing medical expenses. We will be pursuing legal remedies to make sure this doesn’t happen to any other students and that students don’t have to be afraid to speak out about issues on campus.”