September 3, 2019

Breaking News: YLC files federal civil rights lawsuit against San Francisco

Date: September 3, 2019
Press Contact: Selina Weiss,, (415) 543-3379


Lawsuit Charges San Francisco with Unlawfully Incarcerating 13-Year-Old African-American Girl
Juvenile Probation Department held minor in custody for eleven days after court ordered her release

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Today, the Youth Law Center filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City and County of San Francisco, the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department, Chief Allen Nance, and two individual officers for unlawful incarceration of a minor. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Rashad Abdullah and his daughter, T.A., who at thirteen years old was held in locked custody for eleven days after a judge had ordered her released. This case is the second brought by the Youth Law Center on behalf of African-American families whose children have been unlawfully held in locked custody in San Francisco.

“Unfortunately, this case is not an isolated incident. It reflects a disturbing pattern in the Juvenile Probation Department of treating a child’s incarceration not as a matter of crisis, but as a matter of course,” said Meredith Desautels, Youth Law Center staff attorney representing Mr. Abdullah and T.A. “The separation of youth from their families is a deeply traumatic experience, and research shows that it can have lifelong effects. The Juvenile Probation Department’s disregard for the basic rights and dignity of youth should not be tolerated, particularly where San Francisco’s youth of color are at greatest risk of harm.”

The suit alleges that on February 14, 2019, T.A. was detained by San Francisco Police Department officers on charges related to a cell phone theft. When a judge reviewed T.A.’s case the next day, on February 15, he found that there was insufficient evidence showing she was actually involved in the crime, and he ordered T.A. to be released. Despite receiving that court order, the Juvenile Probation Department did not release T.A., keeping her apart from her family and incarcerated in the county’s locked juvenile facility for eleven days. Only when her case was brought back before the same judge, on February 26, did the Department finally release her.

“How can we trust in the juvenile system if they’re not abiding by the rules and doing the right thing?” asked Mr. Abdullah, T.A.’s father. “The system expects so many things of kids, but doesn’t hold itself to the same standard. That’s not justice.”

The Youth Law Center is still litigating the first lawsuit, Straughter et al., v. City and County of San Francisco, et al., in the federal district court in San Francisco. Both cases allege liability on the part of the individual officers as well as the City of San Francisco for maintaining practices that caused the continued confinement of these youth after they had a right to be released.

This new case comes at a moment of major reform of San Francisco’s juvenile justice system. In June, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 to close the city’s juvenile hall by the end of 2021. Support for this law arose in part from the financial waste of running the facility, which is used primarily as a detention facility pre-trial. Despite a precipitous drop in juvenile crime over the last decade, San Francisco continues to spend more than $11 million annually to operate its 150-bed juvenile hall with an average daily population of only 46 youth, almost all of whom are released into the community either before trial or as a final disposition of their cases. In 2018, for example, no San Francisco youth were transferred to the adult criminal system, and only 3 of the 695 youth booked into the juvenile hall ended up with a San Francisco juvenile court disposition to the state’s locked juvenile facilities.

Research shows that incarceration of youth undermines healthy adolescent development and leads to other negative costs and consequences for youth and society, including increased rates of future incarceration and lower rates of high school graduation.

“Young people need programs, a job, and support,” said T.A. “Juvenile hall does not do anything good for youth. It makes things worse.”

As San Francisco looks towards the closure of its juvenile hall in 2021, community advocates are calling for policymakers to completely reimagine its approach to supporting youth development.

“This case is an example of how this system cannot be trusted to treat our young people with the dignity and respect that they deserve, and why the closure of juvenile hall is so important,” said Jessica Nowlan, Executive Director of the Young Women’s Freedom Center. “With that facility closing, we hope to see an end to mistreatment of youth, and reinvestment in positive supports that build on their strengths and open up opportunity for young people, rather than locking them down.”

Abdullah et al., v. City and County of San Francisco et al., 3:19-cv-05526.

About Us
The Youth Law Center advocates to transform foster care and juvenile justice systems across the nation so every child and youth can thrive.