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By Miriam Raftery

Photo of Horton's injuries, courtesy of Singleton Law Firm

July 17, 2020 (La Mesa) – A woman who claims she was shot one the side of her breast with a rubber bullet or other projectile by a law enforcement officer while waiting at the Chevron gas station for her daughter, after leaving the May 30 protest, has filed a claim against the city of La Mesa seeking unspecified damages for her injuries.

Michelle Horton, 51, a former Navy officer and healthcare administrator, is white. Her attorney, Gerald Singleton, told ECM in an interview that Horton had left the protest after a dispersal order was given. He indicated that according to Horton, the shooting occurred before dark, between 8 and 9 p.m., by an officer who pulled up in a vehicle at the gas station and shot her in the chest with a projectile, without warning.

The filing follows an earlier claim filed against La Mesa by Leslie Furcron, a protester struck in the head and seriously injured by a beanbag fired by a La Mesa Police officer outside the LMPD station during the May 30 protest.

“After police shot Ms. Furcron, there was a lot of chaos,” Singleton states.  Horton and her daughter became separated, so Horton called her daughter and said “Let’s go home,” he continued. “They went to the Chevron station across from City Hall. She was on the sidewalk just waiting for her daughter when the police pulled up in a squad car and shot her. She had her hands up to show she was unarmed, and she was shot.”

He said the injury appears to have been inflicted by a rubber bullet, not a beanbag.

Singleton says the gas station has informed him that it has surveillance video showing the incident, which he intends to obtain once a court issues a subpoena, a process that will likely take about 20 days. 

ECM has asked La Mesa Police and the city manager for comments, but thus far they have not responded.

Although the claim is against the city of La Mesa, in the interview, Singleton  indicates he is not yet certain whether the alleged officer-involved use of force entailed a La Mesa Police Officer or a Sheriff’s deputy.  “We believe it likely was La Mesa but it’s unclear,” he acknowledged, a crucial detail that the video may provide. Sheriff’s deputies were present at the time, though La Mesa Police were in command at that hour, according to a timeline released previously by the city.

Horton’s claim seeks damages for her injury and may pursue punitive damages, the attorney said, adding that his client has suffered flashbacks and nightmares since the incident. In addition, a separate taxpayer claim for injunctive relief has been filed by a La Mesa resident, since Horton lives in Bonita.  The taxpayer claims seeks to have the city cease use of non-lethal projectiles such as rubber bullets and beanbags, as well as tear gas for crowd control; tear gas is banned in international warfare.

“Michelle is white, upper class, not the kind of usual suspect in police violence. She is also physically tiny and posed no threat,” Singleton notes. “What I really hope people take away from this is that this could happen to anyone.  If you’re not even at a protest, and you just happen to be standing near there, this could happen to you.”

Furcron, too, has filed a claim against the city.

Attorneys for both Horton and Furcron, along with lawyers representing additional injured protesters, held a virtual press conference yesterday  along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)) and the Coalition for Police Accountability and Transparency (CPAT).

At the press conference, several claims were announced across the county alleging police misuse of force against protesters who suffered injuries.

Dante T. Pride, an attorney representing Leslie Furcron, stated, “The use of kinetic impact projectiles, such as lead-filled bean bags, for crowd control is excessive, potentially lethal force, in violation of the Constitution and contrary to the values of our society.” Furcron was hospitalized in an ICU and has reportedly lost vision in one eye as a result of the rubber bullet that hit her between the eyes after she tossed an empty beverage container while protesting outside the LMPD station. She had called officers “murderers” but Pride indicates such free speech is Constitutionally protected.

Another claim has been filed against the county and city of San Diego on behalf of Roslyn Cassidy, who claims that an unknown officer believed to be SDPD or Sheriff fired a rubber bullet or other projectile and injured her as she was leaving a protest in San Diego after an unlawful assembly was declared. Her suit alleges negligent training of law enforcement and contends that there was not ample time provided after the dispersal order before she was fired upon, sustaining an injury to her side.

During the virtual press conference, the group also called on local elected officials to adopt a “Police Accountability Now” package of reforms that includes limiting discretionary stops by police, establishing independent police review boards, adopting de-escalation policies and policies to limit use of force, and shift some funds from police budgets to invest in non-law enforcement interventions.

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