By Evan Sernoffsky
A group of protesters and journalists filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Berkeley on Sunday, claiming police used "malicious and oppressive" force when trying to quell a chaotic Black Lives Matter protest in December.
Eleven people, including a Berkeley city employee, several UC Berkeley students, a seminary student and a freelance photojournalist on assignment for The Chronicle, are seeking damages, saying police violated their First Amendment rights and injured them during the Dec. 6 protest.
Berkeley city employee Moni Law, 55, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said an officer clubbed her in the back from behind while she urged demonstrators to step back from the police line.
"Just because you have a badge doesn't mean you have a license to hurt people," Law said at a news conference Monday in Berkeley announcing the lawsuit.
The suit, filed in San Francisco federal court by attorneys from the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, seeks unspecified damages from the city and police officials.
"Berkeley police responded brutally, clubbing peaceful protesters and journalists, often from behind, some in the head, indiscriminately and unnecessarily, and used profligate amounts of tear gas without justification," attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote in the complaint.
Police arrested six people -- including two mentioned in Sunday's lawsuit -- and said some demonstrators threw bricks, pipes, rocks and bottles at officers. One officer suffered a dislocated shoulder, police said shortly after the incident.
Berkeley police officials declined to comment on the suit Monday. The turbulent night through the streets of Berkeley came three days after a grand jury in New York declined to indict officers in the choke-hold death of Eric Garner and weeks after no charges were filed in the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The Berkeley demonstration came amid scores of protests throughout Oakland and San Francisco in late fall and winter.
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