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Berkeley Must Face Class Action by Protesters

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on December 13, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The city of Berkeley, its police chief, and several of its police officers, will be required to face a class action lawsuit brought by protesters that were injured at a recent city council meeting. Though some of the charges brought were dropped, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White kept alive claims that the Berkeley police chief failed to enforce the police department's own rules for policing demonstrations. These rules were recently adopted after violent tactics were used against demonstrators for Black Lives Matter back in 2014. Apparently, police used those same outlawed tactics against those protesting the city's SWAT team training and weapons expo, while in the presence of Police Chief Andrew Greenwood.

Three Protesters Allegedly Injured From Police Use of Batons

In July of 2017, protesters and plaintiffs Dylan Cooke, Brooke Anderson, and Lewis Williams came to the stage with other protesters at the conclusion of the City Council meeting at Longfellow Middle School to unroll a banner that said, "Stop Urban Shield, End the Militarization of Our Communities." According to the complaint, before the sign was even unrolled, police stormed the stage and used excessive force. One officer twisted Cooke's wrist and shoulder in an "excruciating pain hold", and another subsequently wrenched Cooke's arm harder, according to the lawsuit. Anderson, who was wearing a press pass, claims she was repeatedly hit with batons on her arm, on which she wore a visible brace, and had her camera pushed into her face with batons. Williams, who is 74 years old, suffered a cut on his head; allegedly he stooped to pick up his glasses from the floor when an officer hit him on the top of his head.

Alleged Force Used Violated Berkeley Police Department's Own Policy

After excessive force was used in a local Black Lives Matter rally in 2014, the Berkeley Police Department adopted a crowd-control and use-of-force policy that includes prohibitions on how batons are used and how crowds are disbursed. Judge White will allow claims to move forward that allege that police violated this policy. Though White did drop some related claims, he will allow plaintiffs to amend their complaint, so as to potentially reinstate the dropped claims, thereby making the city increasingly liable for the actions of the police officers. According to plaintiffs' attorney, Rachel Lederman, if the dropped claims are amended and reinstated, "the big picture can be addressed and additional injuries can be averted and people can exercise their First Amendment rights in Berkeley without fear of being clubbed on the head for no reason."

If you or someone you love has been violently injured during a peaceful protest, contact a civil rights attorney. Our country was founded on notions of free speech, and in order to keep our country great, all voices should be heard. A civil rights attorney may take your case free or at low cost. Call one today. You have nothing to lose.

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