Berkeley City Councilman Ben Bartlett’s traffic stop in July, where he brought up the police contract and raise he supported, wasn’t his first encounter with Berkeley police in the past year, new records show.
In late October 2017, Bartlett was a passenger in an Uber that got pulled over by Berkeley Police Sgt. Katherine Smith. The driver — not Bartlett — had run a red light in central Berkeley at Allston Way and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, according to an email Berkeleyside obtained through a Public Records Act request.
“The passenger was Ben Bartlett and when Smith contacted the driver, Bartlett immediately identified himself as a Council Member. He did not want the driver to be ticketed,” wrote Lt. Angela Hawk in an email to her captain.
“Bartlett stepped out of the car to talk to Smith,” the email continued. “The conversation then became more about the homeless encampment along the sidewalk of Civic Center Park,” which was nearby. Hawk’s email, sent Oct. 26 just after 1 a.m., reported that the stop had taken place “last night.”
Smith “described the conversation as a positive interaction,” Hawk wrote, in closing. “She did not ticket the driver.”
The email, entitled “Council Member interaction,” is a “matter of practice” for BPD, said Officer Byron White, Berkeley police spokesman.
“It is typical for staff to notify their supervisor of interactions or occurrences that are noteworthy or might generate additional interest,” he wrote, in response to a Berkeleyside inquiry.
A community member who was aware of the Uber stop alerted Berkeleyside to it after seeing news coverage last month about Bartlett’s traffic stop in July.
Last week, Berkeleyside sought any records from the city related to the Uber stop as part of a Public Records Act request. The email from Hawk, released Tuesday, was the only document the city provided. Because it was a warning, no additional paperwork was generated.
Berkeleyside spoke at length to Bartlett in late August about the July traffic stop, and asked him at that time about the Uber stop as well.
Bartlett did not initially remember the stop but, when he did, he insisted he had not been trying to abuse his authority.
He said the Uber driver had been telling him about her difficult circumstances as a single mother who wasn’t earning enough money and was struggling to get by.
“This is not a moment where I was throwing my weight around,” he said. “This was me pleading for a woman who needed my help.”
Bartlett has apologized repeatedly for his behavior and texts to the police chief during his own traffic stop in July after he ran a red light in South Berkeley.
He said previously that he has begun talking to a therapist to figure out what caused his behavior during the July stop, and wants to learn how to communicate better.
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