SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – In a federal class action, six students say UC-Berkeley police needlessly, and punitively, handcuffed and jailed them for participating in a teach-in to protest education cuts and tuition hikes.
Lead plaintiff Callie Maidhof and her co-plaintiffs participated in a week-long teach-in called “Open University” in December 2009. They sued two university officials, the campus police chief and an officer on behalf of the 66 students who were arrested.
Open University was called for the week before final exams, and university officials decided not to prevent students from setting up the event in Wheeler Hall.
Wheeler Hall was a center of the Free Speech Movement in 1964, and has frequently been occupied by student activists ever since.
“The students planned to discuss the ongoing university budget cuts, tuition increases, and the impact of lack of funding on the state and education in general,” according to the 12-page civil rights complaint.
“The Open University was intended to highlight the skewed priorities of the University of California system.”
Students began occupying Wheeler Hall on Monday, Dec. 7, and police officers agreed to let them stay in the building overnight if they kept the area clean, let janitors enter the building, and did not disrupt study sessions.
The university agreed to let students occupy the building until Saturday, but upon learning of a concert scheduled for Wheeler Hall, officials held a meeting to discuss their options.
“During this meeting, university officials decided to ignore their previous agreement with the students and have all the participants in the Open University arrested,” the complaint states.
On Saturday night, an officer read a dispersal order to the students, telling them to leave the building.
“This was the same dispersal order that had been read on other nights, however, the police indicated that it was a formality and that the students’ activities were sanctioned by the administration,” the complaint states.
Apparently not. Police sealed off Wheeler Hall sometime between 4 and 5 a.m. and began handcuffing students as they slept, arresting 66 people.
“All 66 students were herded into the basement, processed, interrogated, and, after several hours, transported to the Alameda County Jail instead of being issued citations and released,” the complaint states.
The students say, “The policy of jailing nonviolent protesters is punitive and a violation of the protesters’ rights to freedom of speech and assembly.”
They seek punitive damages for constitutional violations and “damage to reputation, humiliation, mental anguish and emotional distress.”
They are represented by Dan Siegel of Siegel & Lee.
Named as defendants are UC-Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, Vice-Chancellor Harry Le Grande, Police Chief Mitchell Celaya, and Officer Marc Decoulode.