Federal lawsuit filed against city over December 2014 Black Lives Matter protest

Nicole White/Staff

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National Lawyers Guild attorneys and plaintiffs announced Monday the filing of a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Berkeley, as well as other city entities, over alleged police brutality in response to a December 2014 Black Lives Matter protest.

At a press conference held Monday morning at Old City Hall, during which two attorneys and several of the 11 plaintiffs in the suit gave statements, participants also said that during a Black Lives Matter protest in Berkeley on Dec. 6, police allegedly used excessive force against a body of largely peaceful protesters, leading to injuries sustained by the 11 plaintiffs in the suit.

A protest in Berkeley on Dec. 6 of last year incited several nights of demonstrations in the city focused on the “disparate treatment of African Americans throughout the United States” at the hands of law enforcement, according to Jim Chanin, one of two attorneys who spoke during the press conference.

On that initial night of protests, demonstrators were allegedly pushed down Telegraph Avenue into Oakland by members of Berkeley Police Department who employed tear gas, rubber bullets and batons, among other weapons, in an attempt to control the protesters, according to the lawsuit.

“The main thing we’re looking to accomplish is to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Rachel Lederman, the other attorney to speak at the press conference, who called the police activity Dec. 6 a “blatantly illegal, indiscriminate use of force.”

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that both BPD and the city failed to supervise or control mutual aid officers in their crowd-controlling methods used during the protest, which they say violates state, city and constitutional law.

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko and BPD declined to comment.

In June, BPD released a review of its actions during the protests on Dec. 6 and Dec. 7, detailing ways in which its responses to civil unrest could be improved.

In the report, BPD said that police placed an emphasis on controlling crowds rather than helping to manage and facilitate lawful activities within the protests. The plaintiffs and their attorneys shared this view at the press conference.

The Berkeley Police Review Commission is expected to submit recommendations for BPD to the City Council at its Dec. 1 meeting.

The 11 plaintiffs in the suit include two journalists as well as several students from UC Berkeley, among others.

Local community activist and one of the plaintiffs, Moni Law, recounted a moment during the protests as she urged her fellow protesters to demonstrate peacefully and cooperate with police. Law said she was suddenly struck from behind by a police officer.

“Just because you have a badge, doesn’t mean you have a license to hurt,” Law said during the press conference. “Let’s keep our city free of violence, and that includes police violence.”

Contact Maxwell Jenkins-Goetz at [email protected].