Michelle Horton decided to go with her adult children to La Mesa on May 30 to protest the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. It was on that night, as she waited for her two children at a gas station, when she says she was struck in the chest with a bean-bag round fired by a police officer while he was driving.
The following day, UCSD grad student and community activist Rosyln Cassidy was marching near Spreckels Theater in downtown San Diego to show her concern over police discrimination and use of force. With little to no warning, Cassidy said, she was struck by a bean-bag round shot from a police officer’s rifle.
That same day, just four blocks away on the corner of First Avenue and Broadway, Sosha Adams was demonstrating against police use of force when, according to a July 20 legal claim obtained by NBC 7 Investigates, Adams struggled to catch her breath, gasping as tear gas spread into her lungs. At the same time, Adams said, she was struck by a bean-bag round.
The three people have since filed legal claims against the city of San Diego and San Diego County Sheriff’s Department for damages they suffered and injuries they incurred as a result of participating in peaceful protests over police use of force.
Now, nearly three months since the George Floyd protests erupted across the country, the U.S. is again in upheaval as protesters once again take to the streets after a viral video surfaced showing a Wisconsin man, Jacob Blake, getting shot eight times in the back by police as his children looked on from the back seat of his car.
Adding to the civil unrest, two people who were protesting Blake’s shooting were shot dead by a gunman in the early hours of Tuesday night. A 17-year-old from was arrested Wednesday and charged with murder in those shootings.
As protests will undoubtedly continue, local law enforcement agencies will be responding to legal claims filed by those injured after getting hit by bean-bag rounds fired by police during the George Floyd protests.
“I went to the protest in La Mesa to support my kids,” said Horton, an account executive. “It was their first time ever going to a protest. They are 18 and 20 years old and I'm really proud of their social consciousness.”
Horton said she was separated from her children and walked to a nearby convenience store. While she stood there, she felt something slam into her upper torso.
“I felt like it went straight through,” Horton told NBC 7 Investigates. "It burned. It stung."
For the 51-year-old mother of two, who was at her first demonstration, Horton said she now looks at police officers in a different light.
“It's not right,” Horton said. “I was outraged. This is not something I anticipated. My confidence and trust in law enforcement is completely shaken.”
The following day, Cassidy, 28, and her friend decided to leave their Normal Heights neighborhood and voice their concerns over police discrimination at a large protest in downtown San Diego. As the crowd marched, she felt a sharp and stinging pain in her right rib cage.
“It was like a stinging sharp pain," Cassidy said. "Right away, I knew that I got shot. It was my duty as a community member to fight for racial equality and to fight against police brutality. It’s our right as citizens to protest, and I want to be able to do that without the fear of getting shot.”
A new bill introduced by state assembly member Lorena Gonzalez would, if passed into law, prevent the use of tear gas and non-lethal projectiles such as rubber bullets and bean-bag rounds during peaceful protests.
During the protests that gripped the nation after Floyd's death, police officers in San Diego County and elsewhere turned to the use of bean-bag rounds and tear gas as a way to control large groups of demonstrators that had commandeered city streets and city freeways.
But questions and concerns over the use of nonlethal projectiles soon emerged after reports of numerous injuries, one of which involved a 58-year-old grandmother, Leslie Furcron, who was struck in the eye with a bean-bag round, sending her into a coma and resulting in the loss of vision in one eye.
Also injured, as reported by NBC 7 Investigates, was 18-year-old Tyler Astorga, who, according to attorney Dante Pride, yelled an obscenity at police while driving through the protests in La Mesa on May 31. Soon after, he was shot by a bean-bag round.
This photo of Astorga was taken hours after he said he was shot with a bean-bag round while driving.
“The officer was standing, like, 10 feet away from me when he shot me,” Astorga told NBC 7 Investigates during a June 3 conversation.
And now, others who were injured with the nonlethal projectiles while demonstrating against police brutality are accusing officers of using excessive and unreasonable force. They say, among other allegations, that police failed to follow guidelines for officers when using nonlethal projectiles.
Horton said those policies and guidelines were not followed and more needs to be done.
“In addition to changing police practices so that it's safe to peacefully protest, I think it's time to analyze some of the hiring, the training and performance of local police departments,” Horton said.
Attorney Brody McBride specializes in use-of-force and excessive-force cases, and is representing Cassidy and Horton in their legal claims against the San Diego police and sheriff's departments.
McBride said that new policies need to be put in place to ensure the safety of all people who wish to exercise their constitutional rights.
“I couldn't believe that law enforcement officials would use this amount of force on peaceful protesters,” McBride said. “There must be clear policies and procedures in place, ones that leave no ambiguity for these officers. Officers cannot use these weapons against peaceful protesters ... period. These weapons should never be used purely for crowd control.”
Neither the San Diego Police Department nor the sheriff’s department responded to NBC 7’s request for comments on this story.