Woman pepper-sprayed at Yiannopoulos protest sues campus, regents for $23M

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Daniel Kim/File

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A lawsuit filed Monday, demanding more than $23 million in relief and damages, alleges campus and university officials violated federal law and campus policies during their handling of the Feb. 1 Milo Yiannopoulos campus protest.

The lawsuit’s plaintiff, Kiara Robles, alleged she was attending the Yiannopoulos protest when she was “attacked with extremely painful pepper spray and bear mace by masked assailants,” according to the complaint filed in federal district court.

Robles, an Oakland resident, alleges the defendants were negligent by limiting conservative speech on campus and withholding law enforcement from protecting attendees during the Yiannopoulos protests. Robles, who is gay, further alleged the defendants discriminated against her because of her sexual orientation.

“It can be dangerous and even life-threatening to criticize liberal policies and opinions on college campuses,” Robles alleged in a Facebook message. “If the UC Berkeley community can’t remain politically neutral or conduct itself with civility, it’s an admission by everyone involved that the university is an indoctrination camp for political correctness.”

The lawsuit names several individuals and groups as defendants, including UC President Janet Napolitano, the UC Board of Regents, outgoing campus chancellor Nicholas Dirks, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, UCPD and UCPD Police Chief Margo Bennett, Berkeley Police Department and BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and billionaire investor George Soros.

Larry Klayman, a representing attorney for Robles, alleged the campus’s and university’s actions “enable violence” and should be disciplined legally.

Prior to the planned Yiannopoulos speech, campus administrators and UCPD invested “substantial University resources planning security measures” to ensure the event took place, campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said in an emailed statement.

Mogulof added in the statement that UCPD responded in an effort to minimize harm to attendees, defend the building from assailants and protect the speaker in the face of an “unprecedented level of organized violence.” Campus administration and law enforcement remain committed to free speech and the protection of campus community members and its guests, according to Mogulof.

“The University of California, Berkeley intends to mount a vigorous and successful defense of its actions, and looks forward to contesting this collection of false claims,” Mogulof wrote in an email. “We are confident that UCPD’s actions will be vindicated against the plaintiff’s uninformed allegations.”

Mayor Arreguín’s office and BPD declined to comment on the pending litigation. The University of California Office of the President, UC Board of Regents, Pelosi and Soros could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Pranav Jandhyala, co-president and founder of BridgeUSA at Berkeley, a nonpartisan organization which helped invite Ann Coulter to speak on campus in April, said he attended the Yiannopoulos event as a member of the media. Jandhyala said he was assaulted by protesters outside of the event.

“When we say we’re a campus that upholds the First Amendment, I think we need to do everything we can — and UCPD needs to do everything they can — to protect the speaker, people who attend the speech, people who protest peacefully,” Jandhyala said. “There needs to be more of a reaction and more of a commitment to trying to prevent this type of assault from happening.”

Contact Valerie Hsieh at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @valhsieh.