Berkeley Police stop sparks racial controversy

The arrest of two people in Berkeley last Friday has prompted charges from some about racial profiling. Scroll down to view a video of the arrest. Image: Kerby L/YouTube
The arrest of two people in Berkeley last Friday has prompted charges from some about racial profiling. Scroll down to view a video of the arrest. Image: Kerby L/YouTube

A recent police stop in Berkeley has prompted some community members to criticize police for racial insensitivity, and potential racial profiling.

Part of the exchange was captured on video, which appears below. The footage was posted on YouTube less than a week ago by one of the women who was stopped, and has been viewed nearly 8,000 times.

Berkeley Police officials said Thursday that the video has been taken out of context, and showed restraint by officers who were antagonized while trying to detain a group of pedestrians who nearly caused a traffic accident near Telegraph Avenue on Friday night.

In response to general questions raised during the course of the footage, police said officers are not required to inform someone prior to handcuffing them; do not have to read Miranda rights for adults until someone is in custody and being questioned about an alleged offense; and are not required to tell other individuals at an active scene why someone is being arrested.


The video begins as a police officer is handcuffing one member of the group, identified by authorities as 23-year-old Calvin Cochran of Berkeley. Cochran is widely identified elsewhere online with the first name of “Jevon.”

Berkeley Police Capt. Andrew Greenwood said the incident began Friday around 10:15 p.m. when an officer watched the group cross Dwight Way at Dana Street against the red hand signal and in front of oncoming traffic.

Near-accident prompted police attention, officials said

Greenwood said two vehicles had to “brake hard” to avoid hitting the group. The officer then asked the group members to stop so he could speak with them.

“They said, ‘We don’t have to stop. He has no reason to stop us,’” Greenwood said. “They keep walking and refuse to talk to him.”

The group walked south on Dana, passing through bollards that prevent vehicle traffic, and the officer drove around the block to catch up with them on the other side, having just witnessed “a dangerous pedestrian violation,” said Greenwood.

The officer approached the group a second time, again told them to stop, and the group refused, according to Greenwood. Words were exchanged and the officer ultimately placed one member of the group, Cochran, in handcuffs, which is around the time the video footage begins.

“People are agitated, upset. They are challenging the officer, swearing at him,” Greenwood said. “They are also physically very close. As it starts, one person is within about an arm’s reach of the officer. It’s not a safe situation for an officer by any of our training to have folks be this close.”

Greenwood said he was not sure why it was Cochran who was arrested, but that he may have been the main person engaging with the officer before the arrest.

(Watch the video below. It may not be available on all mobile devices.)

Communication breakdown

In the video, the officer can be heard calmly but firmly telling another male member of the group at least six times to “go on the sidewalk for me,” away from Cochran and a parked police cruiser, as a second Berkeley Police officer walks up quickly.

The young man says repeatedly, “Promise me you’re not gonna shoot him.” He eventually complies with the order, and moves onto the sidewalk.

The second officer asks the male to “back up” further, and he replies, “Damn. Back up? For jaywalking?” Then begins to shout, “Hey, y’all, back up for jaywalking, y’all!” as he storms out of frame to the right, and continues to shout about the command.

LaTasha Pollard during her UC Berkeley graduation last year. Image: LaTasha Pollard/Facebook
LaTasha Pollard during her UC Berkeley graduation last year. Image: LaTasha Pollard/Facebook

At this point, about 30 seconds into the video, the second officer can be seen speaking with a woman in a white T-shirt, later identified as 22-year-old LaTasha Pollard of Oakland, who is still standing in the street. The officer continues to ask her to move onto the sidewalk, as he explains, “this is an officer safety issue.”

(Pollard graduated from UC Berkeley last year and has previously been described online as “a dedicated young Black-queer woman… influenced by Black revolutionaries such as Assata Shakur and Malcolm X. She aspires to use the knowledge and skill set she is acquiring to help empower the Black community, especially the youth.”)

Voices in the background continue to rise, from both the male who had moved to the sidewalk and the woman who is filming. Pollard asks the officer to identify himself, and he points at his name on his uniform, appears to speak into his radio, and continues to command her to move onto the sidewalk.

The male who had moved onto the sidewalk then observes, cursing in frustration, that a third officer is arriving on the scene. Pollard asks police if they have nothing better to do, and ignores another order to “stand on the sidewalk.”

“I’m standing fine, I’m standing fine,” she says, at about 1 minute into the footage.

“No you’re not,” the officer says. Then he moves forward, saying, “all right,” as he tries to grab her right wrist. Pollard moves away and steps up onto the sidewalk. The officer again tries to grab her wrist, to detain her, as she moves away a second time.

“Don’t touch me, don’t touch me,” she says, as her friends express express alarm and concern. “Don’t touch me, what are you doing? Don’t touch me.”

Emotions continue to rise, with the male on the sidewalk cursing at the officer to “get the f-ck off of her, nigga. Sorry ass punk ass cops of Berkeley.”

The woman filming asks, “Don’t you all got anything better to do? Than harass some people… just walking down the street?”

The male asks the officer to “move beyond your job right now,” as the officer continues to gesture and indicate that the people need to stay on the sidewalk.

Members of the group continue to question police in frustration, asking why their friend is being arrested rather than receiving a ticket. The officer indicates Cochran is being arrested on suspicion of Penal Code 148, resisting, delaying or obstructing the work of an officer.

Jevon Cochran, speaking out about during a rally in 2010 regarding the killing of Oscar Grant. Image: Jevon Cochran/Instagram
Jevon Cochran, speaking out about during a rally in 2010 regarding the killing of Oscar Grant. Image: Jevon Cochran/Instagram

(A local political activist and poet who was a UC Berkeley senior with one semester to go as of last May — after transferring from Laney Community College in Oakland — Cochran was previously arrested during protests against the BART Police in 2011, and was involved in a variety of civil rights groups as a high school student political activist in his home state of Michigan.)

As another officer arrives, members of the group begin to speak loudly about what they believe is an excessive number of officers, and say Cochran is being arrested “for walking while black.”

“This is walking while black, literally,” says the woman filming the video that ultimately was posted on YouTube. “How much y’all get for arresting per black person?”

In the background, Pollard can be heard asking, also, if there’s an “end of the month quota,” and continuing to say, “don’t touch me, no,” as an officer tells her to put down her phone.

As the third officer approaches them, they ask him why Cochran is in the back of a police car “for walking across the street.” The officer says he’s just arriving and does not know the details. In the background, Pollard is having a separate interaction, asking an officer, “Is there any problem? Is there any problem with me just standing here on the sidewalk where you told me to stand?”

Meanwhile, the woman filming the YouTube video is telling the new officer she’s frustrated with the “whole aggressive process,” and recalls having received a jaywalking ticket “in a white neighborhood, Alameda”: “All I got was a ticket and told my ass to go.”

“There’s three police officers here,” she tells the officer. “For jaywalking,” adds Pollard.

“That’s the way you guys are acting, that’s why there’s three police officers,” he responds. Rather than calm the situation, the tension level rises again, at roughly 3 minutes into the video.

“Because we’re black, that’s why. We’re being arrested because we’re walking down the street?” the women say, their voices intermingled and becoming frantic.

“Sorry we’re being too much of a ‘coon,'” the male group member says. He shouts to someone, “Can you call the police and tell them there’s too much ‘coonery going on on the corner?”

A woman walks up and says she was walking behind the group right before the officer arrived, and that she hadn’t seen them do anything wrong — “just some kids enjoying themselves” — and that it seemed the officer had “targeted” them. (Police said the woman had possibly not seen the initial traffic violation.)

Shouts from group members continue about the detention “for jaywalking,” as well as slurs against the police. The male walks up to the police car — into the area previously cleared by police — and an officer directs him to move back, pointing to the sidewalk.

“Are you going to shoot me, sir?” he asks the officer. He raises his voice, saying, “Excuse me? I think that he’s being kind of violent. Oh, my god, there’s four, there’s four cops.”

The woman filming the YouTube video asks for “our Miranda rights,” and expresses disbelief that four officers have come to the corner “for jaywalking.”

At this point, just about 4 minutes into the video, the camera turns back to Pollard, the woman in the white T-shirt. She says she wants to check on her friend in the police car, as two officers approach her. Then, as one of the officers reaches for her wrist, she turns away, saying: “I’m just standing here, what are you touching me for? What are you touching me for?”

She backs away quickly, turns, and begins to run into the darkened yard of a nearby house as one of the officers appears to clasp her around the body and take her to the ground. The male group member asks: “Are you serious?” As Pollard says, “let go of me, let go of me,” in an anguished voice.

The footage becomes too dark to make out, but officers can be heard saying: “Put your hand back. Stop resisting.”

Pollard screams, saying, “I’m not resisting. Help me! I’m not doing anything,” as one or two officers continue to tell her to “put your hand back.”

“She didn’t do shit!” yells the woman filming the YouTube video. “Are you f-cking for real? Is this really happening?”

The friends are shouting at the officers and to each other as police continue to try to handcuff Pollard, who also is yelling and crying, saying, “I’m not doing anything, no. No, you’re not going to arrest me!” She continues to yell, “No!” and cry for help, getting progressively more upset, and says she does not understand why police have their hands on her.

About a minute after the struggle began, the sound of handcuffs can be heard clicking into place, and Pollard continues to shout and scream, asking to know why she’s being detained.

At this point there’s a separate heated interaction between the woman filming, identified in the video as “Kerby,” and an officer who tells her put down a bottle he calls beer. She responds, upset, telling him repeatedly to “look at it”: “It’s a soda, don’t say it’s a drink.… Before you start saying I was drunk or anything, it’s a soda.” Several more words are exchanged between them, and she curses at him as walks away, clearing his throat.

Officers at this point are trying to get Pollard into a police car, as she continues to ask “why are you coming after me?” She sinks down onto her knees, crying that the officers are hurting her, as the officers tell her to get up. She continues to express anger and confusion about why she’s being detained, but ultimately walks with police out of view.

There’s a last exchange between the filmmaker and one of the officers where they argue as her camera comes close to his face. He tells her to move it away from him, “unless you want to get in handcuffs.” She asks him why he is “threatening” her and he ultimately walks away.

In the final scene, there are shouts among the friends indicating that Pollard does not know why she’s being arrested.

The male is shouting, “Why are you being detained? Why are you being detained?” And, as the first officer from the incident approaches, he asks him again, “Are you going to shoot me?” before telling him to “f-ck off” shortly before the video cuts out.

LaTasha Pollard and Jevon Cochran on Sunday after their arrest by Berkeley Police officers. Image: Via Jevon Cochran/Instagram
LaTasha Pollard and Jevon Cochran on Sunday after their arrest by Berkeley Police officers. Image: Via Jevon Cochran/Instagram

Police say officers handled the situation appropriately

Police held several meetings with individuals this week to provide context to the video.

Capt. Andrew Greenwood said Thursday the situation could have turned out much differently — with a warning or a ticket, rather than two arrests — had the group just stopped to speak with the officer during his initial request at Dwight Way.

“The stop wasn’t made because of jaywalking,” Greenwood said Thursday. “There was a dangerous pedestrian violation, and that’s not to be taken lightly.”

Police Chief Michael Meehan
Police Chief Michael Meehan

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan said, in addition, if a warning or a citation was going to have been issued, the group would have had to stop of its own accord to interact with the officer, which did not happen.

“Once they walked away and said, ‘We don’t have to listen to you,’ the officer could have driven away and acted like pedestrian safety doesn’t matter, but that’s not what we ask of our employees,” he said.

Greenwood said, once the first officer detained Cochran, he asked for back-up because of the “agitated group,” which included one person in custody — Cochran — who had not been searched.

Greenwood said, when officers have probable cause to arrest someone, and a person does not submit to the arrest, officers can then use reasonable force to prevent escape and effect the arrest. An arrestee has the right to challenge the probable cause for the arrest in subsequent court proceedings, but not through fleeing or fighting at the time of arrest, which could constitute a violation of Penal Code 148, obstructing, delaying or resisting police.

The officials said there isn’t a particular code section that forms the basis for the need to stop in response to police commands, but that the courts have found over the years that police do have this authority, which, again, can be disputed later by filing a complaint, or a motion during court proceedings.

“The remedy happens afterward,” said Meehan. “The courts have held that people are not allowed to fight with officers during a detention or arrest.”

Meehan said his officers conducted themselves calmly and professionally in the face of what Greenwood described as a constant barrage of charged, baiting language.

In response to several general questions raised during the course of the footage, police officials said officers are not required to inform someone prior to handcuffing them, in part because that can lead to flight attempts or increased violence; do not have to read out Miranda rights for adults until someone is in custody and being questioned about an alleged offense; and are not required to tell other individuals at an active scene why someone is being arrested.

The incidents in the video involving Pollard raised some questions of their own. Greenwood said, while it may not be clear in the footage, it appeared the officer made the decision to take Pollard into custody due to her refusal to move onto the sidewalk after ignoring repeated orders to do that, and because she twisted away from the officer’s grasp.

At that point, police say Pollard had violated PC 148. Several minutes later, the officer tried to her arrest her for that. Greenwood said it was Pollard’s attempt to resist arrest by twisting away and trying to flee from officers that led to her being taken to the ground.

When a suspect is fleeing, the officials said they have limited tools to stop the flight. One of those is physical force, which often can involve taking someone down to decrease their “positional advantage.”

“If a fight continues standing up, that’s where people get hurt,” Meehan said. “If they can get her on the ground and control her hands, they can prevent any further fighting.”

The officials said that, while officers do not receive any special training about how to diffuse situations that become charged due to racial allegations, the department is in the process of increasing its Fair and Impartial Policing training, which addresses unconscious racial biases and involves a range of elements to try to proactively diminish the effect of those biases — which are present in everyone — in law enforcement contexts.

“The officers carry themselves with professionalism. They are calm, communicate clearly, don’t respond to provocative questions,” said Meehan, of the video. “They aren’t provoked. And they conduct themselves very well.”

Cochran and Pollard were later released from jail with citations to appear in court in early June, said Greenwood. He said, as of Thursday, no complaints had been filed with the city about last week’s incident. As of Friday afternoon, the Alameda County district attorney’s office said no information was available about the incident or whether charges would be brought.

Council staffer: No technical violation, but a lack of racial sensitivity

The video initially came to the city’s attention when a friend shared it with Anthony Sanchez, aide to Councilman Jesse Arreguín. Sanchez sent it on to the police chief and city manager, and met with police earlier this week.

Sanchez said police had told him they did not believe the officers had made any errors during the interaction. And, to a certain extent, Sanchez said he agreed.

“The officers didn’t do anything wrong per se,” he said. “But people of color may perceive these interactions much differently. You can’t say it’s not valid, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to dismiss those feelings. Police failed to see the larger implications into the sensitivity around that.”

Sanchez said the people in the video appeared to be “very confused” about why they were being arrested, and felt they were targeted due to their race.

“If you’re aware of the dynamics, there could have been ways to calm it down,” he said. “People from a certain orientation feel police target them because of race. Officers should be aware of that dynamic, and do all that they can to deescalate it and disprove that’s the case.”

Sanchez also said he wondered why police had ultimately followed through with Pollard’s arrest after she had already moved onto the sidewalk. He said police told him the decision had been made at the time of the violation, even though it took several minutes to handcuff her.

“Once she was on the sidewalk, wasn’t it moot at that point?” he said. “They have discretion about what action to take. Yes, they were within their rights and the rules, but was the discretion used appropriately?”

NAACP forum this weekend to address concerns about race, policing in Berkeley

Attempts to reach three of the group members from last Friday’s incident failed.

According to the Onyx Express, a student-run publication at UC Berkeley focused on the black community, Cochran and Pollard are both UC Berkeley graduates: “The two were detained for an hour and taking (sic) to Berkeley Police headquarters. Pollard also visited the hospital for pain in her wrist and arms from the arrest and shackling.”

According to the publication, Cochran and Pollard plan to file complaints with the city’s Police Review Commission. Black students at UC Berkeley also reportedly held a town hall meeting Wednesday night “in response to recent concerns of increased profiling of Black people in Berkeley.”

Saturday, the Berkeley NAACP had previously scheduled a forum designed to allow community members to share concerns and stories about policing in Berkeley related to race. (Scroll down for details.)

Berkeley NAACP president Mansour IdDeen said several members of the group from last week’s incident have been invited to Saturday’s forum, and that he hopes they will attend. 

He said he had watched the video and been concerned by what he had seen, but that he’s still collecting information and trying to learn more about that night’s events, including what happened prior to what’s shown in the footage.

“It’s just unfortunate that a jaywalking incident ended up with two college students being arrested. We’re really concerned about that,” he said. “Of course, the young people could have done things a little bit differently.”

He said he had seen many comments on YouTube where people had taken issue with the language used by the people who were stopped.

“But we want to concentrate on the entire event,” he said. “Our community feels like we are under siege, in a way, being profiled, being over-policed by the Berkeley Police Department. That can generate bad and, in some cases, dangerous situations that continue to happen.”

IdDeen said he’s heard about too many police incidents where race does seem to play a role, in his view. A flier for Saturday’s event describes reports of “alleged physical abuse; home searches without warrants; interrogation of small children; and the Constant Stop and Frisk of African American men and boys by the Berkeley Police.”

He said he had received a report about a week ago about a black 15-year-old freshman at Berkeley High who had been walking with others when they jaywalked while returning to school after lunch. That student was handcuffed, while other non-black students he had been with were not, Id-Deen said. 

And he said he had spoken to some other young people in South Berkeley on Thursday who said they had been put in handcuffs and searched, and asked if they were on probation or parole, after “just walking down the street.” 

“People in other parts of town who don’t experience this may believe that these things don’t happen,” Id-Deen said. “But they do happen. We want to work with the Berkeley Police Department, but we’re still concerned about these incidents and we would like to see them stopped.”

Id-Deen said he himself had met with the Berkeley Police chief this week about the video, and that, previously, the two had worked to improve communication between their organizations. He said he had participated in a Fair and Impartial Policing training after being invited to do so by the chief, and believes that training could be beneficial for officers who are open to it.

But he said he would also like to see some “cultural competency” training to improve conditions and interactions between police and community members.

Id-Deen said the goal of this weekend’s forum is to come up with a set of solutions to pass on to the Berkeley Police Department. In addition, he said, the city’s Police Review Commission has provided a recommendation to the city manager that would collect race and enthinicy data and other types of information for all police stops to be able to better analyze and improve the status quo. Berkeley does not currently track that data for stops that don’t result in an arrest, he said.

“There’s no data to back up what’s going on,” said Id-Deen. “You hear from citizens what’s going on, but there’s no record, no way to examine that.”

The NAACP’s community forum, entitled “Berkeley Police – Power & Abuse,” takes place Saturday, May 10, at the South Berkeley Library at 1901 Russell St. from 2-5 p.m. Learn more here.

Related:
NAACP raises issues of race discrimination in Berkeley (12.11.13)
Berkeley to investigate claims of unfair employment (09.18.13)

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