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31 arrests made overnight after 3-day Santa Rosa curfew began

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After giving protesters leeway during the first night of a citywide curfew, Santa Rosa police said Tuesday they likely will squeeze harder on night two in an effort to prevent another round of vandalism and property damage.

Police arrested 27 people and the CHP four in a third night of anti-police brutality demonstrations that were followed by instances of violence after the curfew began Monday night. The curfew will be in effect nightly from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. through Thursday morning and much of downtown will be blocked off to vehicles during that time.

Although the curfew began at 8 p.m. Monday, police allowed the mostly peaceful protesting to continue throughout downtown Santa Rosa until about 11 p.m., when some in the crowd began throwing rocks and bottles at police, squad cars and private vehicles.

Santa Rosa police Chief Ray Navarro said some people may not have known about the curfew on Monday and officers allowed peaceful demonstrations to continue.

“But it’s been 24 hours, it’s going to be different tonight,” he said Tuesday. “We will have the resources in place to effect enforcement earlier. It may not be right at 8, but it may be earlier.

“We will be prepared to take quick action,” Navarro said.

Mayor Tom Schwedhelm said he was disappointed by the damage to the downtown area but expressed a belief shared by other city officials: that the people causing destruction overnight are distinguishable from the larger, peaceful contingent whose demonstrations are more prevalent in the daytime.

“They’re sharing their frustration, they’re doing it in a peaceful way,” he said. “We totally respect that and we totally allow that.”

However, he reiterated that the city would not tolerate looting, vandalism or assault, and added that “I don’t think blocking 101 has an eye toward improving Santa Rosa.”

The damage estimate remained unclear Tuesday afternoon. Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Chris Mahurin’s best estimate was “tens of thousands” of dollars, mostly in the form of graffiti and some broken windows. Some looting occurred Sunday night, but it wasn’t clear if or how much took place Monday night.

At least three people are believed to have been injured after being shot by rubber bullets, all apparently after police have issued orders to disperse from the scenes of unlawful assemblies. Police Lt. Jeneane Kucker said she also was aware of “about three” such instances and said that “during these chaotic events, it’s difficult to tell until people come forward to let us know they were injured.”

One Santa Rosa man was arrested on suspicion of shooting business windows with a pellet gun.

Francisco Javier Orozco, 30, remained in Sonoma County Jail on Tuesday morning and faces one felony vandalism charge and two other misdemeanors, including probation violation, when he appears in court Wednesday.

The other 26 people arrested were taken into custody after ignoring orders to disperse around 11 p.m., Kucker said.

Seventeen of them are adults and 10 are juveniles. One is from Petaluma and the rest from Santa Rosa.

Before the curfew went into effect, four people were arrested after entering the northbound lanes of Highway 101 south of Steele Lane around 5:15 p.m., CHP Officer David deRutte said.

People were walking along Armory Drive parallel to the freeway, he said, when they started climbing the perimeter fence and onto the freeway.

“Many officers responded to the scene and a dispersal order was given. Four people — two juvenile females, two adult males — ignored the order and stayed in the lanes,” he said.

Those four people were arrested on suspicion of refusing a lawful order, obstruction of a peace officer and walking on a freeway.

Navarro said Tuesday morning that his officers weighed the options for allowing protesters time to disperse peacefully.

“With every demonstration we’ve had, there’s a unique twist. Our people on the ground are evaluating as it goes,” he said. “Based on the information we were getting from them, we made the decision to provide them as much time as possible before asking them to disperse.”

Early in the evening, they weren’t committing any violence or vandalism, he said, though they were becoming more confrontational with police and passing motorists.

A gathering of people after curfew at the square marched north on Mendocino Avenue, looped west on Elliott toward Highway 101 before turning south and east toward Morgan Street and College Avenue, where demonstrators lined across from waiting line of CHP officers, who assembled to prevent further access to Highway 101. Demonstrators chanted and implored police to kneel with them for about 20 minutes before marching back toward the downtown square.

As the night wore on, some in the crowds, which had splintered and gone different directions, began throwing rocks and bottles at police, patrol vehicles and passing citizen vehicles, according to police.

Just before 11 p.m., officers “gave numerous dispersal orders for the unlawful gathering” and began making arrests, Kucker said.

“Our main purpose was to prevent any damage to property or lives,” Navarro said. “Once it became clear (that was happening), we took action.”

He said clearing unlawful gatherings and enforcing the curfew likely will start closer to 8 tonight. There likely will be more law enforcement officers present or at-the-ready tonight as well.

Protests, too, may be larger or more emotional tonight because today is the birthday of Andy Lopez, the 13-year-old shot and killed in 2013by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy, who confronted him as he walked down a sidewalk carrying a realistic-looking plastic gun.

Protests have gripped the nation all week, sparked by the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died when a white police officer in Minneapolis held him face down on the street with a knee on the back of his neck for nearly nine minutes while arresting him on May 25.

In citizen videos and police bodycam footage, Derek Chauvin is seen holding his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, including nearly three minutes after Floyd became unresponsive. Chauvin and three fellow officers who also participated in the arrest and didn’t stop Chauvin were fired.

Floyd’s death has sparked outrage across the country and drawn condemnation from the general public as well as law enforcement leaders, including several in the North Coast. It has led to days of both peaceful and violent protests and triggered curfews in several large cities.

In Santa Rosa, police Sgt. Chris Mahurin said the department has been allocating more than 50 officers each night to respond to the protests, but that the actual number of officers being activated fluctuates.

Not all of those officers were needed Monday night, since violence was low compared to Sunday night, when about 100 law enforcement officers from Santa Rosa and other agencies responded at the peak of the night’s activity.

Santa Rosa’s City Council was still planning to meet Tuesday night, which overlaps with a vigil in Roseland to commemorate what would have been Lopez’s 20th birthday.

Schwedhelm said he did not anticipate canceling the meeting, which he said would preclude his attendance at the Lopez memorial.

The council meeting, the first since unrest began, offers members of the public a chance to express their opinions and will give council members a chance to gather information about the protests as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, Schwedhelm said.

He added that city staff has been in communication with the organizers of the Roseland event and said he was “very optimistic” about the memorial, which is scheduled to go from 5 to 7 p.m. near the Dollar Tree on Sebastopol Road.

“They’ve always been peaceful, and that’s what the expectation of those organizers is,” he said.

But Susan Collier Lamont, one of the organizers of the event at the Dollar Tree, expressed some concern about losing control, noting that the event was organized before any violence took place and that “peace keepers and medics” would be present.

“I’ve been organizing protests and vigils for many years and have never felt this way before,” Collier Lamont said. “I just don’t want any destruction in an already vulnerable community.”

Councilman Ernesto Olivares said he hoped the community would be able to have difficult conversations about systemic community problems at forums that allowed for serious, nuanced discussion. He noted the need to implement more of the reforms recommended after Lopez’s death, such as a greater engagement of youth like those who have filled out the ranks of the local protests.

“We no longer speak to them as tomorrow’s leaders,” Olivares said. “They’re leading today.”

Washington, D.C. also needs to make a stronger commitment to reform in response to the protests, said Olivares, referring to President Donald Trump’s threat to deploy the military as part of a crackdown and the clearing of protesters Monday ahead of a church photo-op for the president.

“Instead of making a stronger call for peace and unity, he’s looking at some of these things that are happening around the country and he’s threatening to use the military to quash some of that violence,” Olivares said.

Navarro acknowledged that the Floyd protests with the added emotion of the Lopez milestone may be more unpredictable.

“Because there is that added piece, we do anticipate additional issues (Tuesday), but we tried to reach out to the organizers yesterday and are going to try to do the same thing today,” he said.

“I truly believe our local community members are going to do what they’re supposed to do. I think the majority of the people demonstrating will go home by curfew and adhere to the order.”

The Lopez-related demonstrations have been peaceful in the past several years.

Navarro said his officers will “show as much restraint as we can.”

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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