Four San Francisco Bay Area residents who say they were injured by protesters during a riot ahead of a speech by a right-wing provocateur at the University of California, Berkeley filed a lawsuit against the university and the city, their attorneys said Tuesday.
The plaintiffs say in the suit filed Thursday in federal court in Oakland that officials failed to protect them from being pepper-sprayed and beaten when they were trying to attend a Feb. 1 speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, a conservative commentator. They are seeking unspecified damages.
John Jennings, his wife Katrina Redelsheimer and their friend Trever Hatch, all of San Francisco, say they were at UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza trying to verify the event had been canceled when a masked protester struck Jennings in the right temple with a wooden stick.
When Redelsheimer tried to help her husband, a group of protesters hit her in the head with a stick and pepper-sprayed them. The group then pushed Jennings to the ground and kicked him, the lawsuit states.
Both suffered concussions, broken or bruised ribs, cuts, burns and welts on their skin from pepper spray, according to the complaint.
“We were assaulted completely out of the blue based on our perceived political affiliation by an angry mob,” said Redelsheimer, who has since moved out of California.
When the pair tried to escape over the barricades to get inside the MLK Student Center, police wouldn’t let them in, she said.
“The circumstances were such that if the police had done nothing at all, we would have been safer,” Redelsheimer said.
The suit says the masked protesters also knocked off Hatch's "Make America Great Again" red hat and pepper-sprayed him, temporarily blinding him. It says a UC Berkeley employee and a UC Davis staffer were part of the group that assaulted the trio.
The lawsuit alleges that police knew there would be trouble and didn't do enough to protect innocent bystanders.
“University officials forced college republicans to rent 60 extra policemen so they obviously anticipated a problem,” said attorney Shawn Steel.
Fellow attorney William Becker agreed.
“What you expect is law enforcement to do their job,” he said. “You don't expect to walk into an anarchist riot.”
Plaintiff Donald Fletcher of Oakland says he and some friends had left a bar and were walking toward campus when they were attacked by masked protesters. Fletcher was beaten unconscious, kicked to the ground and taken by ambulance to a hospital, the suit says.
"Fletcher continues to experience the negative psychological effects of the incident," the suit adds.
UC Berkeley police canceled the speech, citing safety concerns after what had been a peaceful demonstration turned violent when dozens of black-clad anarchists attacked some people in the crowd.
UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said the university has not seen the suit.
"We have not yet been served with this litigation, and that means our attorneys have not seen the suit,” he said. “So, we cannot comment. Once that happens there will be a statement."
Berkeley spokesman Matthai Chakko said the city had no comment.