San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit brief the press for a second time.
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore and San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit (right) are among those being sued. File photo by Chris Stone

A man who alleges he was shot with “kinetic impact projectiles” by law enforcement officers during a protest in downtown San Diego last spring is suing the city and county.

According to his suit filed Friday in San Diego federal court, Matthew Burgess attended the May 31 demonstration and was fired on, along with other protesters. He was shot twice in the legs, then in the back after he “turned around to try and flee,” the suit says.

Matthew Burgess complaint against San Diego police and sheriff. (PDF)

Burgess also alleges he was sprayed with “pepper spray or another irritant” by an unidentified officer, and that another officer “jabbed him in the stomach” with a baton.

Burgess previously filed claims for damages, both of which were denied by the city and county.

He alleges that in denying his claim, the city stated the officers seen firing projectiles in a video Burgess shot with his cellphone were San Diego County sheriff’s deputies and not SDPD officers. Burgess alleges the county made a conflicting claim: that no sheriff’s deputies were at the downtown protest, only SDPD was present.

Neither agency responded to requests for comment regarding the lawsuit.

At the protest, Burgess stood peacefully, chanted and made video recordings on his telephone, the suit says.

“At one point, [Burgess] saw an officer try to hit a peacefully protesting woman with a baton. [Burgess] calmly said, ‘Don’t push her.’ At that point, Officer [Jeremy] Huff jabbed him in the stomach with the baton, leaving bruising and causing pain,” the suit says.

When Burgess later saw officers begin shooting kinetic impact projectiles at other peaceful protesters, he yelled at them to stop, while continuing to record video on his cellular phone, the suit says.

“The … officer(s) then purposefully aimed at him and shot him twice in the legs,” the suit says. “[Burgess] turned around to try and flee in order to protect himself, and the … officer(s) shot him in the back, causing him to bleed through his shirt.”

Burgess says he later was sprayed with pepper spray or another irritant by officers, “causing him significant discomfort and pain.”

On the afternoon of the protest, San Diego police declared an unlawful assembly, stating in a tweet that “100-200 protesters are throwing rocks and bottles at our officers at 300 Broadway. Let’s remain calm.” About 30 minutes later, the department tweeted, “Aggressive crowd at State/Broadway. Throwing objects at our officers.”

Rubber bullets and tear gas were ultimately used to disperse the crowd of protesters.

By the end of the night, more than 100 people were arrested on various charges, ranging from failure to disperse, burglary, assault and vandalism, according to the police department.

Burgess is being represented by San Diego attorney Dante T. Pride, who also is suing La Mesa on behalf of partially blinded protester Leslie Furcron at a May 30 police station demonstration.

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