Questions Surround Police Use of Force

Photo: Several instances of violent encounters between protesters and police were described in Wednesday's report, but the question of excessive use of force was not addressed.
Anne Marie Schuler/File
Several instances of violent encounters between protesters and police were described in Wednesday's report, but the question of excessive use of force was not addressed.

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Though the independent UC Berkeley Police Review Board's official report on the Nov. 20 Wheeler Hall occupation and the sporadically violent mass demonstration outside the hall was released Wednesday, questions still remain about the appropriate use of force by the various police agencies who responded to the mass protests.

While the report addresses in detail several instances of violent clashes between the police agencies and protesters - ranging from one instance where a protester's fingers were broken after being struck by a police baton to another where a police officer was crushed by a barricade - it does not take any definite stance on the issue of excessive force. According to the board's charge, it never was intended to.

Rather, the report was meant to inform the campus community and make recommendations for the administration and UCPD. Punitive actions were beyond the scope of the board, according to Wayne Brazil, board chair and Boalt Hall School of Law professor.

"To determine whether there is excessive force requires a very circumstance, specific inquiry and confidence that you understand and have accurately identified all the facts," Brazil said in an interview after the report's release. "The process that we were able to use - which is not criminal or civil litigation - does not permit that."

The report reprimands UCPD commanding officers for a lack of communication that allowed outside agencies to arrive on campus without knowing the intensity of the protest or how they should appropriately respond. The report states that lack of communication allowed for at least one protester to be shot with a rubber projectile.

When officers from the Alameda County Sheriff's Office arrived on scene carrying "less-lethal weapons" - FN303s guns that resemble machine guns and shoot rubber balls, as well as "37 mm launchers" that deploy smoke or chemicals - the report states that one UCPD commanding officer in front of Wheeler instructed a sheriff's sergeant not to deploy smoke.

"It is not clear that this kind of control was exercised over the officer who deployed the rubber projectile," the report states. "There is no evidence that he or she received or sought permission from our command staff before doing so. It is not even clear that our command staff knew (at the time) that any officers were carrying such weapons."

UCPD Chief Mitch Celaya said in a letter that actions taken by police were not taken with "evil intent".

According to Celaya, four complaints have been filed against UCPD officers, two of which - including the reported finger smashing - are still outstanding.

Two complaints have been filed against Berkeley Police Department officers, though a city panel said there was no misconduct in their cases, according to Sgt. Mary Kusmiss.

Mihir Zaveri of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.


Javier Panzar is the news editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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