OAKLAND -- Plaintiffs in a $15 million federal civil rights lawsuit against UC Berkeley administrators and police got their first hearing before a judge Tuesday, nearly two years after Occupy protesters said they were beaten by police on Sproul Plaza.
Lawyers for former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, former Police Chief Mitch Celaya and six other administrators asked Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers in U.S. District Court in Oakland to dismiss them from the suit and the claims they gave the orders that resulted in violations of free speech, excessive force and false arrest on Nov. 9, 2011.
Rogers did not rule, but took the arguments under submission.
That day was one of the more violent of the several Occupy protests at UC Berkeley in 2011. Police were seen hitting protesters with billy clubs and roughing up others who had linked arms to try and prevent the removal of a few tents on Sproul Plaza.
Twenty-nine plaintiffs in the case are accusing the seven administrators and nine police officers from UC Berkeley and the Alameda County Sheriff's office of civil rights violations; they are asking for $7.5 million in general damages and $7.5 million in punitive damages for injuries they received and for civil rights violations.
Before the hearing, George Washington, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the administrators should not be dismissed from the lawsuit.
"The police went above and beyond the call of duty to beat the hell out of people and the administrators need to take responsibility," Washington said. "If they are dismissed, we still have the police officers."
But inside the courthouse, Judge Rogers admonished Washington for not providing enough specific evidence that the administrators are to blame.
"These are significant allegations you are making about people," Rogers said. "It is incumbent on me to make sure you have facts about each individual, and you have lumped many of them together."
Janine Scancarelli, a lawyer for the administrators, acknowledged police used force.
"People were hit, people were hurt," Scancarelli said. "Does this mean these particular defendants were responsible for that? Not necessarily. The complaint does not link these particular individuals to those who were injured."
A UC Berkeley police review board and a subsequent report by UC administrators both found fault in the way UC Berkeley administrators and police handled themselves on that day. At the time UC President Mark Yudoff said he was "appalled" at the actions of police at UC Berkeley and at UC Davis where students were pepper sprayed.
And former UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau, in a letter following the police review board's report said: "We truly regret that our processes were not adequate for dealing with the particular challenges of that day."
Contact Doug Oakley at 510-843-1408. Follow him Twitter.com/douglasoakley.