UC issues lawsuit against Gill Tract protesters

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The UC initiated its first piece of litigation against the protesters occupying university-owned land in Albany by filing a lawsuit Wednesday.

The lawsuit – which names 15 defendants and lists 150 others under the title “Does” due to their current lack of identification – alleges the defendants “cut the chains securing the gates into Gill Tract, entered the property and have since established a campsite and attempted to grow food” on the tract. The lawsuit additionally alleges the protesters’ continued presence is preventing research on the tract.

“Defendants’ presence on Gill Tract, preventing the ability of Scientists to carry out their research projects, significantly impacts the University,” the lawsuit reads. “The inability to carry out the research program directly impairs the University’s mission as a research university.”

At least two of the defendants named in the lawsuit – Devin Murphy and Elizabeth Fairweather – are current UC Berkeley students, despite a campus press release stating that none of the named defendants are students.

“UC is using scare tactics – its overall approach is pretty disingenuous,” said Anya Kamenskaya, a UC Berkeley alum and encampment spokesperson. “On one hand, they’re suing us, on the other, they’re saying there’s still room for negotiation.”

The university is seeking a restraining order against the defendants and an award of monetary damages incurred “as a result of the trespass and for the rental value of the land during the occupation” – a move meant to ensure the protesters “bear the substantial expenses” resulting from the occupation instead of the university, students and taxpayers, according to the press release.

According to the press release, the lawsuit is not the only legal action the university is prepared to take, though campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof would not comment on what further legal action might entail.

Despite the filing of the lawsuit, administrators are prepared to suspend legal action if the protesters voluntarily leave the site and cease interference with university control of the tract, according to a second press release sent Thursday.

The lawsuit is the first legal step the university has taken in response to the occupation of the tract, which began on April 22 when protesters armed with hoes and seeds took over the plot of land used for research. Their intention was to start a sustainable urban farm and protest the campus’ plans to develop part of the land south of the encampment for future commercial use.

On Thursday, the university took further action by barring entry to the tract, an action that is meant “to restore university control and supervisions of the land,” according to the press release. However, people were still permitted to leave the tract but not re-enter.

“This represents the latest in a series of measures taken by the UC Administration to force the Farmers off of this piece of public farmland,” the protesters said in a response on their website. “To date, the UCPD has cut off all water to the Gill Tract, incapacitated the fire hydrant on the land, placed concrete barriers around the land preventing vehicular access and locked all entrances shut.”

Despite the university no longer permitting entry into the tract, the occupiers are continuing with their normal routine. Tweets were sent out Thursday asking for donations of foodstuffs that can be passed easily over the tract’s fences.

“Protesters are passing buckets of water one by one to the land – it’s pretty laborious, but people are pretty committed,” Kamenskaya said.

Read the text of the lawsuit below: