3 individuals sue city of Berkeley, Berkeley police chief over alleged excessive force at protest

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Three individuals are suing the city of Berkeley, Berkeley Police Department Chief Andrew Greenwood and several other police officers in a class action lawsuit served at 11 a.m. Wednesday, alleging police brutality at a protest in June 2017.

Protesters Dylan Cooke, Lewis Williams and photojournalist Brooke Anderson say BPD officers violated their constitutional rights by using excessive force near the end of an anti-Urban Shield protest beginning June 20, 2017. The protest occurred outside and, in some instances, inside a City Council meeting happening that night, at which the council voted to stay in the Urban Shield program.

“Fortunately, (Williams) only had a mild concussion; it could have been much worse,” said plaintiff lawyer Rachel Lederman, who said Williams was struck on the head with a baton by an officer.

Lederman added that officers did nothing to help Williams, who was 74 years old and bleeding from the baton strike, and that other demonstrators supported him before he checked himself into a hospital later.

All three of the plaintiffs, who are Alameda County residents, are seeking compensation for their injuries and alleged rights violations, and they also aim to stop violent approaches to policing, according to Lederman.

“Pain compliance holds were used against Dylan Cooke, who had stepped onto the stage peacefully to hold the banner up,” Lederman said. “The officer hadn’t given her a chance to comply. He just began applying pain, and she’s actually sustained some fairly long-term injury to her shoulder and wrist.”

Cooke was arrested by BPD that night and released a few hours later without charges. Since then, Cooke has been attending physical therapy to treat the sprains she sustained from the hold, according to Lederman.

In a previous article by The Daily Californian, Mayor Jesse Arreguín said in an email that protesters were given plenty of chances to comply, including multiple verbal warnings that officers gave the protesters on the stage.

Anderson, while wearing an arm brace from an earlier injury, was struck on the arm with a baton, according to Lederman. She did not have any serious injuries, but Lederman maintains that there was no reason to use force against a photojournalist with a clearly displayed press pass.

Greenwood and city spokesperson Matthai Chakko said they could not comment on pending litigation.

The plaintiffs are represented by three lawyers — R. Michael Flynn, Hasmik Geghamyan, and Lederman. The individuals named in the lawsuit are Greenwood and officers Spencer Fomby, Brian Mathis, Sean Ross, Todd Sabins, Christopher Schulz and Samantha Speelman.

Councilmember Ben Bartlett said he cannot comment on pending litigation, but that he “was there when they bumrushed, when they stormed the stage. It was a bunch of people who jumped onstage with a sign and shouted some things.”

The lawsuit was filed two days after the Monday City Council meeting that maintained BPD’s continuation in Urban Shield, which Lederman said is a coincidence.

“A different approach should have been taken,” Lederman said.

Contact Jackson Guilfoil at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @GuilfoilJackson.