Protesters Beaten by Police are Seeking $15 Million in Lawsuit

In a recent hearing, UC Berkeley administrators sought dismissal from a lawsuit that alleges they were complicit in the police response to the 2011 Occupy Cal protests.

Plaintiffs in a $15 million federal civil rights lawsuit against UC Berkeley administrators and police had their first hearing before a judge, almost two years after Occupy protesters said they were beaten by police on Sproul Plaza.

Lawyers for the administrators, who include former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, former Police Chief Mitch Celaya and six other administrators, asked Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers in U.S. District Court in Oakland to dismiss them from the lawsuit, which alleges UC Berkeley administrators hold partial responsibility for claims they gave the orders that resulted in violations of free speech, excessive force and false arrest on November 9, 2011.

Rogers did not rule, but took the arguments under submission.

BAMN, an organization that supports students’ rights and affirmative action filed the $15 million federal civil rights lawsuit in 2011 against police who raided and dismantled a large Occupy Cal protest which took place on campus, and the administrators BAMN claims approved these actions.

In the weeks following the protest, video footage of police officers beating students with batons received mass media coverage.

That day was one of the more violent of the several Occupy protests at UC Berkeley in 2011. Police were seen hitting protesters with billy clubs and roughing up others who had linked arms in an effort to prevent the removal of tents on Sproul Plaza. The lawsuit states that police used unwarranted violence in their response and violated the protesters’ constitutional rights.

Twenty-nine plaintiffs in the case are accusing the seven administrators and nine police officers from UC Berkeley and the Alameda County Sheriff’s office of civil rights violations.  They are asking for $7.5 million in general damages and $7.5 million in punitive damages for injuries they received and for civil rights violations.

A UC Berkeley police review board and a subsequent report by UC administrators both found fault in the way UC Berkeley administrators and police handled themselves on that day. At the time UC President Mark Yudoff said he was “appalled” at the actions of police at UC Berkeley and at UC Davis where students were pepper sprayed.

In a letter following the police review board’s report, former UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau said, “We truly regret that our processes were not adequate for dealing with the particular challenges of that day.”

Janet Gilmore, UC Berkeley spokeswoman also apologized for the events that took place and in an email stated, “Since then we have established a Protest Response Team that considers numerous ways to peacefully resolve protests and demonstrations.”

In the next several weeks, Judge Rogers will make a decision in response to the motion to remove administrators from the lawsuit.

No matter what the decision on the motion, the lawsuit will continue until an ultimate resolution is reached, according to Yvette Felarca, a plaintiff in the suit and a BAMN organizer.

“We’re confident that the university is and will be held accountable one way or another throughout this lawsuit,” she said. “Our goal is to make sure that the university never does this again to any future demonstrators on the campus.”

We will post updates as they become available.  Feel free to contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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