On Friday, January 17, 2014, Occupy Cal protesters won an important victory in their federal lawsuit against UC-Berkeley (UCB) administrators, UCB police and Alameda County Sheriffs for excessive force and violation of their free-speech rights at a protest defending public education at UCB on November 9, 2011: U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez-Rogers denied the UCB administrators’ motion to dismiss them from the suit.
First, Judge Gonzalez-Rogers found sufficient connection to hold UCB administrators responsible for the violent actions of police. She wrote: “[T]he allegations of the [plaintiffs’ complaint] give rise to a reasonable inference that nearly all the [administrator defendants] were aware of the police response and the resulting injuries during the afternoon raid…. [I]t was or should have been obvious to the UC Administrators what would be the likely result of Birgeneau’s directive that they ‘not back down’ on the no-encampment policy: a violent response from the police that would lead to excessive use of force and false arrest by the officers under their control.”
Second, Gonzalez-Rogers found it plausible that the administrators’ actions were motivated by the protesters’ message: “The protestors’ message here was supportive of the Occupy movement and expressed opposition to Birgeneau and Breslauer’s stated positions on University fee hikes and privatization… Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged facts to suggest that this rationale is a pretext for viewpoint discrimination based upon the differential treatment of other protest encampments.”
Said BAMN attorney Ronald Cruz: “In strong and clear language, the judge agreed with the plaintiffs down the line, saying it was plausible that the administrators were fully aware of the police violence but did nothing to stop it and continued to direct it, and that they targeted the protest because of the content of its speech: its opposition to the fee hikes and privatization they themselves had supported and were implementing. The plaintiffs are confident that we can prove these allegations over the course of this case.”
Yvette Felarca, lead plaintiff and BAMN organizer, said, “This ruling is another victory for and testament to the strength of the new civil rights and student movement. BAMN filed to defend the right to public education and stop the privatization of UC Berkeley and the UC system as a whole. That’s what led to the attack on the Occupy Cal protest to begin with. We intend to put the entire failed privatization policy of the UC’s on trial through this case. Already, we’ve succeeded in forcing out the top administrators responsible for the attack, starting with former Chancellor Birgeneau, then Vice Chancellor Breslauer and also UCPD Chief Celaya. We will not rest until we defeat the entire policy, both in the courts and on the campuses, which is why we are also leading the movement to remove Janet Napolitano as President of the UC system. ”
The case is titled Yvette Felarca, et al. v. Robert J. Birgeneau, et al. (Case No. 11-cv-5719).