Woman pepper-sprayed at 2017 UC Berkeley protests can sue, court rules

Protesters holding a "This is War" sign at the 2017 Berkeley Milo
Joshua Jordan/Senior Staff
Three years after protests in response to Milo Yiannopoulos' planned appearance at UC Berkeley, a federal appeals court reverted a previous ruling and stated that a woman who was on campus to see Yiannopoulos may sue a protester who she alleges shined a flashlight in her eyes to direct attacks by other protesters.

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A federal appeals court ruled July 8 that a woman pepper-sprayed at the 2017 Milo Yiannopoulos protest in Berkeley can sue.

In 2017, Kiara Robles filed a lawsuit demanding more than $23 million in damages, alleging that campus officials violated federal law and that protester Raha Mirabdal shined a flashlight in her eyes to allegedly “incapacitate” and “physically assault” her. On July 8, the dismissal of Robles’ claims against the city of Berkeley, UC President Janet Napolitano and former UC Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks was upheld, but the judges also concluded that Robles’ battery claim against Mirabdal should not have been dismissed.

On Feb. 1, 2017, Robles came to Berkeley to see Yiannopoulos speak, when she was pepper-sprayed during an interview with a news reporter.

The judges ruled to reverse the dismissal of claims against Mirabdal, who Robles alleged is a member of “antifa,” a term for anti-fascist groups. Larry Klayman, a lawyer for Robles, alleged at the appeal hearing that there were threats at the Yiannopoulos event that jeopardized free speech and freedom of assembly.

According to court documents, Robles alleged that Mirabdal shined a flashlight to direct attacks by unnamed assailants using pepper spray, bear mace and flagpoles.

“Other than that they were all in a large crowd together, there’s just nothing connecting my client to these quote-unquote unknown assailants,” said Rachel Lederman, a lawyer for Mirabdal, during the appeal hearing.

The judges, however, ruled that Robles’ additional allegations that Mirabdal physically attacked other Yiannopoulos supporters “lends plausibility to her allegation that Mirabdal was a participant in a coordinated attack.”

Robles also filed 1st Amendment and equal protection claims against UC officials, but the court ruled that there was inadequate context demonstrating that the UC officials’ actions were motivated by sex or sexual orientation.

“We are pleased that the Ninth Circuit recognized that the University’s officials acted appropriately and in keeping with Ms. Robles’ constitutional rights,” said UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof in an email.

According to Mogulof, this decision will not affect campus because Mirabdal has no affiliation with UC Berkeley.

In the hearing, the court upheld a previous decision to disallow Robles to be represented by her chosen lawyer, Klayman. On June 11, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals suspended Klayman from practicing law for 90 days for conduct regarding conflict of interest.

Contact Catherine Hsu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @catherinehsuDC.