Four Bay Area residents who traveled to UC Berkeley on Feb. 1, 2017, to hear the controversial political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, but who were beaten up black-clad protesters after the event was canceled, have filed a federal lawsuit against the university, Berkeley, and a number of others.
John Jennings, Katrina Redelsheimer and Trevor Patch of San Francisco, and Donald Fletcher of Oakland allege in the civil-rights lawsuit that UC Berkeley police did not follow their own regulations for crowd control the night of Yiannopoulos’s speech.
Instead of engaging with the crowd and ensuring that bystanders were not hurt, police stayed inside the ASUC MLK Student Union building and watched as demonstrators hurled metal barricades, rocks, Molotov cocktails and other projectiles at the building, the lawsuit contends. As a consequence, the four got hurt.
Police “retreated into the MLK building for their own safety,” Bill Becker, the founder and director of Freedom X and one of the attorneys on the case, said at a press conference on UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza today. “They were indifferent and reacted recklessly when they abandoned this plaza.”
The lawsuit contends that police agitated “the mob by issuing feckless disbursal [sic] orders and empty threats of arrest from a vantage point where they could ensure their own safety while leaving Plaintiffs exposed to violent assaults.”
UC Berkeley has not seen the lawsuit yet, so officials cannot offer a comment, said Dan Mogulof, a university spokesman.
“Though we have no comment on pending litigation, the allegations in this new case are very similar to the allegations against UC and the city by another defendant,” said Matthai Chakko, a city of Berkeley spokesman. “The city and the university filed motions to dismiss that case, and those motions are attached. The court took the motions under consideration and indicated it would rule on the papers. No hearing has been set.”
The four friends had arranged to meet at Caffe Strada on Bancroft Avenue before Yiannopoulos’s 8 p.m. speech, according to the lawsuit. As they were walking there, some of them heard three explosions, saw two fires burning, one in the street, and saw abandoned AC Transit buses, according to an interview Redelsheimer did after the event. When they began seeing unofficial texts that Yiannopoulos’s talk had been canceled, they decided to go to Sproul Plaza and see what was going on. The attorneys did not address why they came into the plaza after violence had broken out.
Jennings and Redelsheimer, who are married and who recently moved to Colorado, were standing in front of the Amazon store, which is in the MLK Student Union building, when black-bloc protesters attacked them. Jennings was thrown to the ground and knocked unconscious, according to the lawsuit. Redelsheimer was pepper-sprayed — the scene was shown in numerous YouTube videos of the evening — and begged the police to let her inside the Student Union so she could clean out her eyes and escape the marauding crowd, according to remarks she made on YouTube after the incident. Police, however, ignored her pleas and did not let her inside.
The lawsuit also takes issue with the barricades UC Berkeley police set up to create a safety zone between protesters on Sproul Plaza and those who had bought tickets to see Yiannopoulos, who was on the last day of his “Dangerous Faggot” tour of college campuses. While police had established a wide perimeter around the student union in order to create spaces between those attending the speech and those protesting Yiannopoulos, the barricades didn’t end up working that way.
“There were several police barricades that funneled [them] into the riot and [they] couldn’t get out,” said Alexander Eisner, one of the attorneys representing the four plaintiffs.
Hatch, who was wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat, was also attacked in Sproul Plaza while Fletcher was beaten unconscious and left to lie on Bancroft Avenue, according to the suit. He spent the night in Highland Hospital, according to the lawsuit. Both Hatch and Jennings suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome, said Becker.
“The reason they are not here today is they are afraid of the violent thugs coming after them,” he said.
Another friend who met up with the group that night, Kiara Robles, was attacked with pepper spray while she was recording a television interview about why she had come to see Yiannopoulos. Robles, along with the right-wing group Freedom Watch, sued Berkeley, and a variety of public officials in June, also citing deficiencies in the police response. Robles dropped the lawsuit in July for “tactical reasons,” according to Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, but then refiled it. (Robles is not a party to the new suit.) Klayman also founded, though no longer runs, the Washington D.C.-based group Judicial Watch, which sued the Berkeley Unified School District to force it to release emails about Yvette Felarca sent by faculty and staff at King Middle School. Felarca, a part-time teacher at the school, is a high-profile member of the far-left group By Any Means Necessary.
The new lawsuit was filed by the Shawn Steel Law Firm of Seal Beach and Freedom X, a Los Angeles nonprofit law firm “protecting conservative and religious victims of discrimination and victims of left-wing censorship,” according to its website.
“Our clients and other innocent bystanders were needlessly and brutally attacked after campus police surrendered to demonstrators,” Freedom X’s Becker said in a press release announcing the federal civil rights lawsuit. “Police deliberately chose to ensure their own safety while leaving the public, who they are sworn to serve and protect, vulnerable to radical leftwing lawlessness. They now must answer to the public for their dereliction of duty.”
The lawsuit also names a number of other defendants, including UC President Janet Napolitano, UC Berkeley Police Chief Margo Bennett, Stephen Sutton, Cal’s interim vice-chancellor of student affairs, Joseph D. Greenwall, the dean of students, the Berkeley Police Department, and Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood. The suit also names two members of BAMN, whom the defendants allege were among those who beat them up. They are Ian Dabney Miller and Raha Mirabdal. The attorneys said at the press conference that they have social media postings that show Miller, whom they allege beat Jennings, bragging about what he had done.
Steel said the four plaintiffs were not looking for a large monetary award, although they would like their hospital bills covered. Instead, they want to force police departments across the UC system to change their policies and to become more proactive against violent protesters. Since police have not done that, it has meant that conservatives have not been able to speak, they claim.
“Conservative speakers are verboten, are attacked, are denied their right to speak,” said Steel.”This is a growing cancer in the American university system.”
Update Jan. 17: This article has been corrected to remove the idea that the four plaintiffs had seen texts about the 150 black-clad protestors while they were at Caffee Strada and before they walked to Sproul Plaza. The reporter has also added information taken from a YouTube interview in which Redelsheimer mentioned she had heard explosions and seen fires as she was walking from the BART station along Bancroft Avenue up to the restaurant.