In late August, news broke that Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett had allegedly attempted to use his status as a city politician to escape a traffic ticket in July. On Tuesday — just two weeks later — Berkeleyside uncovered, through a Public Records Act request, that Bartlett had another controversial encounter with the Berkeley Police Department in October 2017.
In this incident, Berkeley police Sgt. Katherine Smith had stopped an Uber — in which Bartlett was a passenger — for running a red light through an intersection at Allston Way and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, according to Berkeleyside. Bartlett and city spokesperson Matthai Chakko could not be reached for comment as of press time.
After the stop, as Berkeleyside reported, Bartlett identified himself as a council member to the officer, and Bartlett began to have a conversation with the officer. Smith described this as “a positive interaction,” and she decided not to ticket the Uber driver.
According to Berkeleyside, Bartlett stated that he was not trying to abuse his authority but rather trying to get the officer to empathize with the Uber driver, who was a single mother struggling to get by.
Less than a year after this incident, on July 19, Bartlett was stopped by BPD officer Stephanie Cole for allegedly running a red light. In this instance, Bartlett once again identified himself as a City Council member, emphasizing to Cole that he actively supported pay raises for BPD officers.
“Breaking my balls (to) give you guys the biggest raise possible,” Bartlett said to Cole, according to an audio recording of the interaction obtained by Berkeleyside. “This how you repay me?”
In a statement to Berkeleyside, Bartlett said he felt the need to identify himself as a council member to protect himself and avoid being racially profiled “like many professional black men.” After criticism of his behavior, however, Bartlett tweeted a public apology Aug. 24.
“I definitely was out of line and lost control. It was a stressful situation, and I completely gave in to the stress, and it was a mistake,” Bartlett said. “I’m really worried that I let the young people down.”
When the officer stopped him, Bartlett did not have his driver’s license or his auto insurance paperwork, as requested by Cole. The officer gave Bartlett warnings for his alleged traffic violation and his failure to provide insurance paperwork. He was also given a “fix-it ticket” for not having a driver’s license.