A federal judge Tuesday set a Nov. 7 trial date in a lawsuit on behalf of demonstrators who are seeking damages because they allege they were victims of police brutality in an “Occupy Cal” protest at the University of California at Berkeley in November 2011.
U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers expressed doubts about some aspects of the suit filed by the activist group By Any Means Necessary and 29 other protesters but said some of the issues in the case should be heard by a jury.
The suit, which was filed on Nov. 29, 2011, accused UC Berkeley, top administrators including former Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, university police, and the Alameda County sheriff’s office of police brutality, false arrest and violating their free speech rights during protests on Nov. 9, 2011.
The protesters’ lawyers dropped the false arrest allegation and attorneys for UC Berkeley and the other defendants filed multiple motions for summary judgment asking that the other allegations be dismissed as well because they believe the protesters have failed to produce enough evidence to support them.
At a lively hearing today that was attended by a large group of protesters and their supporters, Gonzalez Rogers said, “Many of the objections by the defense are well-taken” and will grant some of the defense’s motions for summary judgment.
But the judge, who will issue her final ruling in the near future, said she will deny other defense motions for summary judgment and let some issues proceed to trial.
Shanta Driver, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told protesters after the hearing that Gonzalez Rogers’ rulings “were not everything we wanted” but said they still represented “a real victory” because the plaintiffs will have a chance to call Birgeneau and other top UC Berkeley officials to the witness stand.
“This is the first time the administration will be called out in a public forum to answer for their crimes.”
Driver said the plaintiffs won’t be able to raise free speech issues in the trial but will be allowed to pursue their police brutality allegations.
UC Berkeley officials have said they wanted to remove the protesters from Sproul Plaza because they were concerned about safety and sanitation problems that had plagued other Occupy encampments across the country in the fall of 2011.
At today’s hearing, Driver said the protest was a free speech matter and “was part of a national movement that was fighting against inequality.” Driver alleged that in cracking down on the “Occupy Cal” protest, UC Berkeley administrators were suppressing speech they didn’t agree with.
But Daniel Sharp, an attorney for the university, said UC Berkeley officials acted because protesters “took the law into their own hands and actively resisted police.” Referring to the university, Sharp said, “We’re at the forefront of free speech but there are limits and we didn’t want to become overrun.” Sharp said, “This was not civil disobedience. This was mob rule.”
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