Police are looking into what caused the injuries of a woman who fell to the ground during a protest in Berkeley on Thursday.
Berkeley police initially said the woman’s injuries were caused by a medical issue. But she took to the internet to dispute that description.
The woman, who has been identified as Celeste Paradise, said she was pushed to the ground after a struggle over a sign she held in support of conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. Shapiro spoke Thursday at UC Berkeley, which prompted hundreds of people to take to the streets near campus to protest.
Berkeley police spokesman Sgt. Andrew Frankel said Tuesday that police are trying to reach Paradise to learn more about what she experienced. As of Tuesday morning that effort had not been successful, however. But the mistake, he added, was an honest one: Frankel said he was told definitively by another law enforcement agency Thursday night that a medical problem caused the woman to fall. As a result, the incident was turned over to the Berkeley Fire Department for treatment, and police did not get involved. No other injuries were reported Thursday.
To add to the confusion, far-right figure Kyle Chapman — who is facing a felony charge related to weapons possession from an earlier Berkeley rally — posted on Twitter and Facebook at 2 a.m. Friday that the woman had been stabbed in the neck. The Facebook post was shared more than 7,000 times and the incident was also reported on the Milo Yiannopoulos website. That prompted an outcry from many people online who insisted police and the media were conspiring to cover up injuries suffered by a Shapiro supporter at the hands of a critic on the left.
Frankel said that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Initially, he said, he posted on the Berkeley Police Twitter account Friday morning to dispute the Chapman stabbing account, writing, “Online accounts surrounding a stabbing at last night’s protest are false.” He followed up that tweet with a second one: “She fell and wasn’t pushed. No fight. That is what she told us at the scene. These are the actual facts.”
Riya Bhattacharjee, an NBC Bay Area reporter, replied to the second tweet, writing: “This is true, I witnessed the whole thing.”
But the Paradise interview, which was posted on YouTube on Saturday, described a different situation.
Recounting the events of the night in a video interview, Paradise said she was standing outside Walgreens, holding her sign, when someone came up and seized it. She said she tried to hold onto it, but the sign was grabbed away by two men.
“I was in the middle of the crowd all of a sudden,” Paradise said in the interview. “Then they slammed me down. My head hit the pavement twice, it was awful. I didn’t trip.” By the time she got up, she had been separated from her friends and was yelled at by protesters, she said.
As previously reported by Berkeleyside, Paradise was taken away in an ambulance around 10 p.m. Thursday. A bystander told Berkeleyside the woman had been carrying a sign supporting free speech and, when someone tried to take it from her, she was pushed to the ground.
Frankel said he could understand how, particularly given the lighting, photographs showing the woman on the ground may have appeared to some to show a gruesome scene due to her long red hair. In one photo, she appears to be clutching her neck.
“It looked like she was sitting in a pool of blood,” he said.
He said it can at times be a challenge in such a fluid situation, involving many officers and law enforcement agencies, to know exactly what has taken place right away.
“There’s a fair amount of fog and friction,” he said Tuesday. “Given that was the information we had at the time, that was what we shared.”
He continued: “That’s what we were told, that’s what appeared to be the case. And clearly we weren’t the only ones who saw it that way.”
Frankel said the department is busy preparing for “Free Speech Week” at UC Berkeley next week, and had no ulterior motives when it reported that the incident was purely a medical issue.
“I don’t have any problem saying there may be more to this,” he said. “Unfortunately, some individuals are trying to seize this and say we’re trying to somehow change the narrative or shape the narrative.”
That is not the case, he said.
Police ask anyone who may have witnessed the event Thursday to call BPD detectives at 510-981-5818.
Berkeleyside reporter Natalie Orenstein contributed to this story.