Trial begins for UCPD officer sued by student over 2009 Wheeler Hall protest incident

The case of a UC Berkeley student who is suing a UCPD officer for allegedly violating her constitutional rights during a campus protest in 2009 began Monday in a federal court in San Francisco.

Zhivka Valiavicharska — a graduate student in the rhetoric department — claims that UCPD officer Brendan Tinney “severely and permanently” injured her left pinky finger when he allegedly hit her hand with a baton during a Nov. 20, 2009, protest outside Wheeler Hall, according to a December court document. Valiavicharska filed the lawsuit on Oct. 26, 2010.

The document states that Valiavicharska received four surgeries as a result of her injury, though the defendants claim that at least one of the surgeries was necessitated by her failure to properly care for her injury.

The trial, which is open to the public, is scheduled to take place Monday through Friday in San Francisco at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, according to the court’s website.

Valiavicharska claims Tinney violated her right to free speech and used unreasonable force and that campus UCPD Chief Mitch Celaya and UCPD Capt. Margo Bennett failed to supervise and adequately discipline the officer, according to the document. In addition, Valiavicharska made state law claims for battery against Tinney and negligent supervision against Celaya and Bennett.

The judge dismissed all of the named defendants besides Tinney because of lack of evidence to support Valiavicharska’s claims, campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email.

According to the document, Tinney was called to work on Nov. 20, 2009, after a group of protesters barricaded themselves inside Wheeler Hall to protest UC fee increases and layoffs.

The police placed metal barricades around the perimeter of the building, and officers were instructed to keep additional protesters from crossing the barriers toward the building, the document states.

Valiavicharska, who was among the protesters standing outside, was allegedly warned by Tinney to remove her hand from the barricade. When she did not comply, he struck the barricade a few inches from her hand and issued her verbal warnings to move it, according to the document.

A video of this incident was allegedly submitted to the court by Valiavicharska, but it was presented too late and also could not be authenticated, according to the document.

Reclaim UC — a blog that follows UC protests and budget cuts, among other issues — posted a video that allegedly portrays part of the interaction between Tinney and Valiavicharska.

What happened after after Tinney allegedly struck the barrier is not completely clear.

The campus contends that Valiavicharska began to shake the barrier and was repeatedly warned to remove her hands, Gilmore said in the email. Valiavicharska continued, and Tinney then struck her hand with his baton, according to Gilmore.

“The university contends that given the chaotic circumstances that day, the importance of holding the barricade line for crowd control, and the repeated warnings, the use of force was reasonable,” Gilmore said in the email.

Valiavicharska, on the other hand, claims she was holding the barricade for support, not shaking it, when her hand was struck by Tinney, according to the document.

“The police aren’t really adequately prepared to deal with protest situations on campus,” said Robert Dudley, a campus professor of integrative biology who was arrested on Nov. 20, 2009, but later had all charges against him dropped.

Betsy Vincent covers academics and administration.