La Mesa

Woman Struck By Projectile During La Mesa Protest Sues Officer, City

Leslie Furcron, 59, was treated in an intensive care unit under a medically-induced coma following the injury

Leslie Furcron

A woman who was struck in the face with a projectile during a police brutality protest in La Mesa in San Diego's East County in late May is suing the officer who fired the round.

Leslie Furcron, 59, has filed a lawsuit accusing La Mesa Police Detective Eric Knudson and the city of La Mesa of battery, emotional distress, and violation of Furcron's civil rights following the day-long protest on May 30, which descended into chaos outside the police department's headquarters.

Protesters gathered throughout the day to call for changes to policing following the death of George Floyd underneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. The demonstration, one of several organized that week, centered on La Mesa because it had also been the site of a separate incident involving a La Mesa police officer, who made a controversial arrest of a Black man at a nearby trolley platform.

During the day, protesters marched through the streets and, at one point, attempted to gain access onto the busy Interstate 8 but, overall, there was no violence during the demonstration. As night fell, though, unrest grew between law enforcement officers surrounding the police department and the crowd of protesters.

Some in the crowd began to throw rocks and water bottles at officers who began deploying tear gas and less-lethal projectiles while giving orders to disperse. Furcron, who arrived at the protest minutes before being shot, according to her attorney, was accused by police of being one of them.

A photo released by the La Mesa Police Department showing what they say was the set-up of law enforcement officers when an item was thrown, prompting a LMPD officer to fire a projectile that hit 59-year-old Leslie Furcron in the face.

In response, Knudson, who was on a raised porch of the police department building, fired a beanbag round from approximately 96 feet away, according to the La Mesa Police Department.

The round struck Furcron in the forehead and immediately sent her to the ground.

The LMPD released a detailed breakdown of their account of events here.

Furcron was live streaming the protest on her Facebook at the time. A graphic video of her injury circulated social media. In the video, she had just called the police "murderers" before the shot was fired.

The lawsuit said Furcron "finished drinking a small can of Red Bull and then threw the can to the ground." It claims she was so far away from any law enforcement officers "that her Red Bull can could not possibly have hit any of them, or even come close."

Leslie Furcron addressed the public for the first time since being shot with a bean bag round by La Mesa police.

After the shot, Knudsen can be heard saying, "That was the guy who's throwing things," according to body camera footage released of the event in July.

Furcron's attorneys, Dante and Jessica Pride, called the remarks a celebration.

The projectile broke Furcron's skull and lodged into her forehead, sending blood flowing from her head as she lie on the pavement, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit accuses law enforcement officers of failing to take action. Instead, a group of bystanders helped her to a car and to an emergency room.

Furcron was placed into a medically-induced coma for several days due to internal bleeding and multiple skull fractures that caused brain swelling, according to the lawsuit.

Emergency surgery was performed to remove the projectile. Six months later, according to her attorneys, she still suffers from neurological symptoms, permanent facial scarring and loss of vision in her left eye.

The officer who fired upon the crowd of demonstrators was identified by La Mesa police months after calls from Furcron's family, attorneys, and other activists to do so.

La Mesa Protest

The La Mesa protest pushed the city and the police department into the spotlight of a national conversation on police brutality and race.

La Mesa Police Release Timeline of May 30 Demonstration

Firing of La Mesa Officer Accused of Excessive Force Against Black Man Upheld

Another Man Accused of Arson During Riot in La Mesa

Furcron and her attorney have publicly stated that they want Knudsen to be criminally charged. The San Diego County District Attorney's Office will review LMPD's investigation and determine if Knudsen is criminally liable, LMPD said.

The lawsuit asks for a jury trial and unspecified damages, including medical expenses and lost wages.

A spokesperson for the La Mesa Police Department said the City Attorney advised them not to comment on pending litigation.

Knudsen, a 12-year veteran of the force, has been placed on paid administrative leave pending results of the investigation. The department's Internal Affairs unit and the department's use-of-force coordinator are also reviewing the incident to see if Knudsen breached department policy.

Furcron wasn't the only one injured during the protest.

An 18-year-old required five staples to his head after being hit by the non-lethal projectile. Another mother filed a legal claim after being struck in the chest. Furcron's lawsuit criticizes the city and law enforcement for failing to follow proper procedures by firing the rounds towards people's heads, instead of towards feet and legs as intended.

The lawsuit not only alleged Knudson and the city of La Mesa violated First Amendment Rights when using force during the protest, but said in the lawsuit that both defendants violated the Ralph Act -- which protects people from hate crimes and discrimination -- when they pushed back against the crowd and fired at Furcron because she was a "Black citizen participating in a Black Lives Matter protest."

The City of La Mesa has made steps to address the actions taken on that night. A firm has been hired to review the police department's actions on that night and to advise the city in ways to strengthen relationships with the community.

Meanwhile, La Mesa Police Chief Walt Vasquez, who was in charge on the night of the protest, has announced his retirement. He received criticism for his lack of transparency about the department's investigations into use of force incidents. A separate firm is also helping the city in their search for a new police chief.

NBC 7's Niala Charles explained how a peaceful protests turned aggressive in La Mesa Saturday night.
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