UC Berkeley speaks out on nationwide criticism regarding Sproul Plaza assault

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Conservatives nationwide directed criticism toward the UC Berkeley campus and UCPD after a man was assaulted Feb. 19 on Sproul Plaza while tabling for the conservative organization Turning Point USA — now, the campus is speaking up for the first time regarding its response to the incident.

Since the episode, conservatives and news outlets have expressed disappointment and anger regarding the process leading up to the suspect’s arrest. In a campus statement released Saturday, campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said that since the incident occurred, the words and actions of UCPD and the campus have been “willfully distorted and inaccurately reported.”

On Feb. 19, Hayden Williams, who is not affiliated with the campus, had been tabling on Upper Sproul Plaza when two males approached the table about 3:29 p.m. A verbal altercation ensued, and Williams began filming the interaction with his phone.

The suspect, Zachary Greenberg, proceeded to slap the phone out of Williams’ hand and knock over the table. While he and Willams struggled for the phone, Greenberg punched Williams several times, causing injury to the victim’s eye and nose. Greenberg left the scene before authorities could arrive, initiating the 10-day search leading up to his arrest.

Two days after the incident occurred, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ released a campuswide statement condemning the “reprehensible” incident and reiterating the campus’s commitment to “freedom of expression and belief.”

About 2 p.m. Feb. 21, UCPD announced that it had identified a potential suspect, adding that the victim was not affiliated with the campus.

The incident drew nationwide backlash as many people expressed anger and disappointment that an arrest had not yet been made. High-profile conservatives, including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and Donald Trump Jr. took to Twitter to express their disapproval of the incident.

On Tuesday, Mogulof said in a statement that the campus had concluded its investigation and was seeking a felony warrant from the Alameda County district attorney for Greenberg. Mogulof added that if the district attorney issued a warrant, UCPD would “immediately” pursue the suspect’s arrest.

Greenberg was arrested Friday — 10 days after the assault occurred.

Many of the people behind the criticisms claimed that the delay in identifying and arresting a suspect was tied to the political beliefs of the campus administration, a claim that Mogulof said in Saturday’s statement was “without substantiation.” He added that UCPD officers seek to uphold the law regardless of their personal beliefs and the identify of the perpetrator.

Mogulof said in Saturday’s statement that in hindsight, while the campus could not have prevented this particular incident regarding an individual unaffiliated with the campus, UCPD and the campus are determined to do their best to ensure that rule and law violations are appropriately punished.

“We have done everything in our power to make sure that happens in this instance, as in all others,” Mogulof said in the statement.

Among those who have condemned the Sproul Plaza assault is President Donald Trump, who invited Williams to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday and went so far as to suggest that Williams should sue the campus and the state of California.

“He took a hard punch in the face for all of us,” Trump said at the conference.

Trump added that he will sign an executive order requiring universities to support free speech in exchange for federal research funds.

“Our commitment to freedom of speech and belief is unwavering and no amount of incomplete, distorted news coverage is going to change that,” Mogulof said in the statement.

Amber Tang is the university news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ambertang_dc.