SAN JOSE, Calif. — Derrick Sanderlin has spent years training new police recruits in San Jose, California, how to avoid implicit bias toward minorities.
Sanderlin, 27, was left questioning the success of that work May 29 when he was shot with rubber bullets as officers squared off with protesters angry over the killing days earlier of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. Protests against police brutality have broken out across the U.S. and in several other countries in the wake of Floyd’s death, which led to the firing of and criminal charges against four officers, including a murder charge for former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin.
Sanderlin required emergency surgery for a ruptured testicle, according to ABC7, which had reporters on the ground and in the air overhead during the protests, which turned violent.
Watch footage of Derrick Sanderlin’s encounter with police below, courtesy of ABC7.
Sanderlin and his wife, Cayla Sanderlin, are now uncertain if he will be able to have children.
“The doctor had let me know before the operation that there’s no way of fully telling until you try to have kids,” Derrick Sanderlin told the San Francisco news station.
“And I just started weeping at the thought of that. You know, we do want kids and we’re very close to having kids,” Cayla Sanderlin said.
ABC7 reported that Derrick Sanderlin, a community activist and leader of the faith-based People Acting in Community Together, first stepped in during the protests when a crowd blocking Highway 101 targeted a man in a blue Mustang. The driver had a “Blue Lives Matter” license plate frame, which he later said was not in support of police officers but was an effort to avoid speeding tickets.
In video from the ground and from ABC7’s news helicopter, Sanderlin is seen stepping up after a protester uses a skateboard to smash the Mustang’s back window. Sanderlin, who carries a sign reading “We R Worthy of Life,” intervenes and ensures that the man can drive away unharmed.
Sanderlin said he eventually made his way to San Jose City Hall, where he saw police officers shooting rubber bullets at people, including young women.
“I really just couldn’t watch it anymore,” Sanderlin said.
In an interview with The Mercury News, Sanderlin said he saw a young girl shot squarely in the chest. Elderly women were also targeted with rubber bullets.
“I started walking sideways over to them with my hands up, hoping to stop them from shooting innocent people,” he told the News.
Video footage and still images from the scene show Sanderlin standing 10 to 15 feet from the officers with his hands in the air.
“I stepped into the line of fire, and a couple of cops said, ‘Move.’ I said, with my hands up, ‘I can’t do that. Please don’t do this,’” Sanderlin told the newspaper. “Another cop came up behind them, pointed directly at me, and said, ‘Move.’”
Sanderlin refused to budge and held his sign in front of his chest, bracing to be hit.
“He fired off a rubber bullet, and I realized he wasn’t aiming for my chest. I was hit directly in the groin,” Sanderlin said.
He told the News and ABC7 that he initially tried to stay upright, but when a wave of pain washed over him, he fell to the ground. Friends pulled him to safety.
Multiple hospital visits later, Sanderlin underwent surgery to repair the damage the rubber bullet caused.
“The doctor said there was a possibility I could be sterile due to the ruptured testicle,” Sanderlin told the News. “He said they saved everything, but won’t know for sure until we try to have kids.
“I was terrified out of my mind. Maybe a week before the protests, (Cayla Sanderlin) and I were talking about how maybe in a year, we’ll have saved up enough to think about having kids.”
Sanderlin’s attorney, Sarah Marinho, told the newspaper her client did nothing to warrant use of force against him. She also told ABC7 that aiming for the head or groin is prohibited when using riot guns.
“He’s so close, it’s hard to believe they weren’t aiming for his groin,” Marinho said. “At no distance is it safe to aim for the groin.”
San Jose police Chief Eddie Garcia released a statement saying he has spoken to Sanderlin about what happened.
“Derrick has been a real leader in our communities’ efforts to reduce bias and discrimination through dialogue,” Garcia said. “I assured him we will be investigating this incident.”
Garcia defended officers’ use of force, however, during a news conference last week in which Capt. Jason Dwyer, the department’s special operations commander, likened the streets during the protests to a “war zone.”
“That is not hyperbole,” Dwyer said. “That is not in any way an embellishment.”
The officer said he had not seen in his 21-year career a scene of violence like this one.
“You ask how can we justify making the decision to use less than lethal projectiles for crowd control purposes,” Dwyer said. “My response is, ‘How can you not?’ If you’re going to ask us to stay there, we have to defend ourselves.”
Watch the San Jose Police Department’s Thursday news conference below.
Protesters and civil rights groups claim, however, that police officers were the instigators of the violence. One officer, Officer Jared Yuen, was seen taunting protesters in cellphone footage that quickly went viral. In one exchange, Yuen tells a woman, “Shut up, (expletive),” and in another portion of the footage, Yuen is heard saying, “Let’s get this mother(expletive).”
Yuen, 33, is also accused of shooting a rubber bullet at a man who earlier in the day had been seen in another viral video rushing to help an injured police officer. ABC7 reported that Yuen has been placed on desk duty while an internal investigation is conducted into his behavior.
Watch the footage of Officer Jared Yuen below, courtesy of ABC7.
San Jose city officials have begun looking at the police department’s policies on use of force, the News reported. The city’s mayor, Sam Liccardo, on Friday proposed a ban on the use of rubber bullets.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has also said he will seek a new statewide standard raising the threshold for when law enforcement officers can use force against protesters.
Sanderlin told the newspaper that his faith in what he and Garcia had been trying to accomplish through bias training has been shaken.
“It just flew in the face of everything we had talked about with the police chief, and what we tried as community members to instill in the new officers that have come in,” he said. “That really makes me sad.”
He also took issue with officials likening the protests to war.
“The community was not prepared for war,” Sanderlin said, according to the News. “They were prepared for their voices to be heard.”