FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 24, 2021
Lauren Regan, Executive Director & Senior Staff Attorney
Marianne Dugan, Senior Staff Attorney
(541) 687-9180 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Journalist and Congressional Candidate Settles Civil Rights Suit Against Humboldt County and Two Sheriff’s Deputies for Abuse of Civil Rights
Eureka, CA — Today CLDC attorneys representing journalist Mike Gamms announced the resolution of a federal civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Humboldt County and two of its Sheriff’s deputies for police brutality, false arrest, First Amendment retaliation, and malicious prosecution.
Gamms is an independent journalist who documents progressive environmental and social change work through video and print media. On June 17, 2019, he was beaten and arrested by Humboldt County police officers on public land near Rio Dell, in northern California, while acting as a video journalist at a longstanding logging protest of an area containing significant old-growth forest. Proposed logging and herbicide use by the notorious Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC) within the Mattole watershed has for decades raised significant and wide-spread controversy — and community resistance has been met with violent repression from private security and government police despite the central role these forests play in combatting catastrophic climate change. The goal of this successful police misconduct lawsuit is to draw attention and accountability to the unprofessional and lawless actions of the Humboldt County Sheriffs and unfettered logging security employees who collude with each other to illegally defend corporate profits at the expense of civil rights, community safety, and the environment.
At the time of arrest, Gamms was wearing his photo credentials labeled “United Nations,” issued to him by the International Native Tradition Interchange (INTI), and was standing near a group of about 15 forest protectors in front of an HRC gate. He clearly stated “Press,” showing his credentials, but Humboldt County Deputy Moore responded “I don’t care,” and, without warning, grabbed his camera, knocked him to the ground face first, and then rested his weight on top of him with his knee in the back of his neck and head, while another deputy kneeled on his legs. The assault resulted in a fractured rib and several other bruised ribs; a large contusion to his right eye socket; a three-centimeter laceration on his left upper lip; contusions on his nose; and the loosening of a tooth.
More than six months after the assault, and after Gamms and CLDC filed a required tort claim placing Humboldt County on notice that he was planning to sue them, the Humboldt County District Attorney’s office charged him with two misdemeanors and a violation, in seeming retaliation for his notice of pending civil rights litigation. Undeterred, Gamms and CLDC continued to pursue this civil lawsuit, which has been affirmed by the settlement reached on all claims. In addition to paying compensation to Gamms for his injuries and the civil rights violations, the County has agreed to request that the District Attorney dismiss the criminal charges. It is anticipated that the favorable outcome will act as a deterrent to Humboldt County and its deputies for future acts of violence and harm to forest protectors and other demonstrators. The litigation also exposed the serious need for further training and supervision of deputies regarding the constitutional rights of journalists and the public to exercise First Amendment rights without threats, coercive bias, and violence — particularly in rural areas where every forest and carbon sink must be protected, now more than ever before.
“Nearly two years after I was violently assaulted and unlawfully arrested by Humboldt County for documenting an action to defend the Mattole’s old growth forest, I am relieved to be able to secure even the slightest semblance of justice for this egregious violation of my rights,” Gamms said. “Unsurprisingly, the County flat out refused to make any effort to ‘reform’ its unreformable police department, and the fact is that even if the cops had agreed to such reforms, it would do little to address the systemic oppression and State-sponsored violence that this capitalist white supremacist colonial state was founded on. It is more and more clear every day that the only path to liberation is total police abolition.”
“I am grateful for the incredible work of the Civil Liberties Defense Center on not only this case, but in defending the rights of activists, journalists, and targeted communities all over the country. Through this settlement, I can now more effectively advocate for police abolition and liberation. We have no other choice but to stand up and fight back.”
“In agreeing to ask that the retaliatory criminal charges be dropped and awarding our client monetary damages, Humboldt County at least recognized the harms perpetrated against him and provided some restitution to allow him to move forward with his life. Together with the growing number of such court awards punishing police brutality across the country, this settlement is another small step on the path to ending this country’s long affair with State-perpetrated violence against those who stand up to and expose oppression,” said Marianne Dugan, CLDC Senior Staff Attorney.
“It is sad that we have to defend nature from our own government and be protected from the police. The criminalization of environmental and human rights heroes is a crime against humanity. May this be a deterrent to future abuse and serve as a blueprint to protect the defenders, as we remain at war, for water, for life, for the children,” said Rocio Velandia, Founder/CEO of International Native Tradition Interchange.
The Civil Liberties Defense Center supports movements that seek to dismantle the political and economic structures at the root of social inequality and environmental destruction.