Ongoing lawsuit against UC Berkeley over alleged police force at Occupy Cal back in spotlight

Yukun Zhang/Staff

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Members of activist group By Any Means Necessary and their attorney held a press conference Tuesday evening to address the progress of their lawsuit against UC Berkeley over the Occupy Cal protest.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear oral arguments Wednesday morning for the lawsuit, which was filed after the Occupy Cal protest on Sproul Plaza on Nov. 9, 2011. BAMN sued campus administrators later that month for allegedly authorizing excessive police force to disperse the crowd.

The hearing will address the campus’s appeal to an earlier ruling in 2016 by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, in which the court denied “qualified immunity” to the UC defendants, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that shields public officials from liability for civil damages as long as they don’t violate the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

During the press conference, BAMN attorney Shanta Driver and BAMN activist Yvette Felarca said BAMN participated in the 2011 protests in defense of immigrant rights, affirmative action and public education.

“It’s free speech to the nationalists, to the racists, to the immigrant bashers,” Driver said, during the press conference. “But for the people who stood up in defense of public education — who stood up against the one percent with the 99 percent — it’s repression and denial and continued attempts to repress our speech.”

According to Gilmore, the protesters in 2011 had set up tents illegally on Sproul Plaza. Gilmore added that the UC defendants now contend that the court should dismiss any claims of excessive force because UCPD was trying to remove the “illegal encampment.”

“Among other things, the plaintiffs have admitted that they did physically resist efforts by police to remove the encampment,” Gilmore said, in an email. “The District Court previously dismissed the plaintiffs’ First Amendment and false arrest claims.”

Felarca said the BAMN plaintiffs have demonstrated unity in pursuing legal action and their lawsuit has made student protests across the UC system safer.

“Every single one of us who’s part of this lawsuit was brutalized by UC Berkeley police and Alameda County sheriffs,” Felarca alleged. “Since we filed this lawsuit, the administration has not felt like they can send the police to brutally beat student protests on this campus.”

With the upcoming Free Speech Week and counter-protests scheduled for later this month, the campus security and protest response will be under high scrutiny. According to Gilmore, the campus has improved protest management since 2011 by establishing a Protest Response Team in 2012, that “consults with faculty leaders” to respond to protests promptly and minimizes the potential for harm to students and campus property.

Contact Jack Austin and Jenny Weng at [email protected].