US district judge sides with city of Berkeley against claims of police brutality

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U.S. District Judge William Alsup sided with the city of Berkeley on April 16 against claims that three women arrested during Berkeley Police Department’s removal of a homeless encampment in 2016 were victims of police brutality or retaliation.

The First They Came for the Homeless encampment, then at Fairview and Adeline streets, was disbanded Nov. 4, 2016. The encampment was disbanded multiple times between October and December 2017, prompting legal action. According to attorney EmilyRose Johns, plaintiffs Michelle Lot, Nanci Armstrong-Temple and Barbara Brust were arrested during the camp’s removal in November 2016 and sued because they “want to be treated fairly” by the police, believe “their rights had been violated” and had been injured as a result of their arrest.

Seven BPD officers who were sued as part of the case were granted a summary judgment on each of the plaintiffs’ claims on April 16.

“We had been occupying and moving camp around for about three weeks,” said homeless advocate and founder of First They Came for the Homeless Mike Zint. “Each previous raid had been more relaxed. This particular morning, they came in heavy-handed. It was this attitude and environment of danger that came into the camp.”

Lot, who lived in the encampment, was arrested for interfering with her son Tanis Higgs’ arrest by wrapping her arms around his waist. In order to prevent her interference, an officer grabbed the hood of her sweatshirt and her hair to pull her to the ground. Although Lot refused medical care at the scene, she claims she suffered a torn rotator cuff as a result of her arrest.

Brust, who responded to calls for assistance from members of the encampment, was arrested for using a megaphone that interfered with Lt. Andrew Rateaver’s “ability to supervise the police operations,” according to Alsup’s summary judgement. Zint, who disagreed that the force used in Brust’s arrest was reasonable, claimed he heard Brust’s “screams of pain” when she was brought to the ground after struggling with Rateaver for the megaphone.

Brust has arthritis in her knees, and her arrest resulted in her needing total knee replacements for each knee.

According to Johns, at the time of publication, the plaintiffs had not made a decision as to whether or not they plan to appeal Alsup’s ruling.

“I’m disappointed with the judge’s decision,” Johns said. “But I think that whether or not our clients’ civil rights were violated, I think the city of Berkeley needs to think critically about whether they want their police behaving in the manner the police behaved that day.”

Contact Emily Hom at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hom_emily.