Four Bay Area residents who suffered various injuries in the riots protesting the Milo Yiannopoulos event in February filed a lawsuit Thursday against UC Berkeley, the UC Board of Regents and the city of Berkeley for damages.
The complaint states that plaintiffs John Jennings, Katrina Redelsheimer, Trever Hatch and Donald Fletcher attempted to attend Yiannopoulos’ speaking event, which was held on campus, when they were allegedly physically attacked by masked figures protesting the event.
The complaint also alleges that UCPD provided insufficient protection for the event’s attendees and lists various authority figures, such as UC President Janet Napolitano, campus Chancellor Carol Christ and UCPD Chief Margo Bennett, along with the city of Berkeley and Berkeley Police Department as defendants in the lawsuit.
“In this case we had four innocent people who were not doing anything to provoke anyone,” said Bill Becker, an attorney representing the plaintiffs with Freedom X Law. “The problem was created by the campus administration, the UC Police Department and Berkeley Police Department not doing their job to protect the public.”
The lawsuit references social media posts, videos and pictures displaying plaintiffs Jennings, Redelsheimer, Hatch and Fletcher suffering from attacks during the riots. One picture, posted on social media, depicts Jennings lying unconscious on the ground after being physically assaulted. Another video shows Redelsheimer and Hatch after being pepper-sprayed and hit with a flagpole while within the barricade, which allegedly prevented them from fleeing the scene.
UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof declined to comment. In the past, Mogulof, with regard to security for “Free Speech Week” in September, emphasized that setting security protocol for events is difficult because each situation is unique.
According to a crowd management policy that the lawsuit cites in the document, UCPD is responsible for removing “uninvolved parties” from situations involving riots. However, the lawsuit alleges that UCPD “abandoned” Sproul Plaza, where the disturbances took place, and delivered “feckless attempts” to break up the crowd, which left bystanders vulnerable.
“It’s deliberate because they made a conscious decision to employ tactics that were ineffective and showed weakness, thereby emboldening the demonstrators and angering them with their empty threats,” Becker said.
Becker said the lack of protection was “intentional” and referenced evidence that allegedly shows UCPD barricading Sproul Plaza upon seeing demonstrators before “retreating” to the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union.
In regard to relief, Shawn Steel, a lawyer with Shawn Steel Law Firm who is also representing the plaintiffs, said they seek two things: compensation for medical bills and a change in police behavior during violent situations.
“The university got such an astonishing international black eye (for not protecting) free speech and (for not protecting) the victims,” Steel said. “It has caused a great deal of needed soul-searching within the system.”