SBPD Accused of Police Brutality

by Ethan Stewart

Emotions ran high this week at City Hall as several UCSB
students — a majority of them black — publicly accused the Santa
Barbara Police Department of brutality during a late-night arrest
gone terribly wrong last week. With Police Chief Cam Sanchez
looking on, a dozen witnesses gave their accounts of the scene
outside Cooney’s Bar late last Thursday night, relaying teary and
outraged stories of unwarranted pepper spraying, excessive use of
batons, and a woman being “dragged by her hair across the street
with her breast hanging out.” While the council was prevented by
state law to take any action on the ordeal, several board members
looked visibly shaken by the testimony. After the meeting, a de
facto spokesperson for the students — biology major Ashleigh Rucker
— alluded to the future of the issue. “Contrary to what was
reported, there was no riot,” she said. “We were attacked. … The
people who did this to us must know that we will not be silent. We
will be heard and we are coming.”

Speaking before the council meeting, police spokesperson Paul
McCaffery said, “We can’t always do our jobs perfectly, but that
was a very difficult night and I think a lot of people had
misperceptions about what was going on.” Police Chief Cam Sanchez
promised the City Council that his department was already looking
into the matter, admitting that the skirmish — which lasted nearly
an hour and effectively closed down the 500 block of Anacapa Street
— “just got out of hand.” According to the police report, the
trouble started just before 2 a.m. when officers on regular bar
patrol witnessed a fight between two men — both black — on the
sidewalk outside of Cooney’s. As the officers arrested 22-year-old
Donald Blivens — a U.S. Air Force serviceman currently stationed in
Kansas — for assaulting UCSB student Reggie Smith, they were
surrounded by angry friends of Blivens who hurled insults and
threats at the officers, demanding that they release their friend
and accusing them of racial bias. Outnumbered by an estimated 300
people in the streets, the cops called for backup and about 15
officers — including sheriff’s deputies and California Highway
Patrol — responded. In the ensuing chaos, the report continues, the
police used pepper spray, batons, and a dog to control the crowd;
they arrested two young women for interfering and another young man
for challenging them to a fight.

However, Tuesday’s City Council testimony — which included
comments from one of the arrested women — presented a far different
account. According to witnesses, the young women were out
celebrating their upcoming college graduation at hip-hop night when
they saw a classmate of theirs unconscious on the ground with
“three cops just standing there, laughing.” They approached their
friend to see if he was all right, and were told by the police to
“move along.” When they refused and tried to return to their
unconscious friend, they were hit with batons and pepper sprayed.
“I feared for my life and for what? Because I wanted to see if my
friend was okay?” said Rucker, who was hit in the chest and arm
with a baton and pepper sprayed in the face. Meron Meshesha — one
of the women arrested — added, “I was terrified. I couldn’t breathe
… there was a baton or a knee jammed in my back and I was crying. …
My shirt fell down in front of hundreds of people and I was being
dragged by my hair across the street and I didn’t know why. … When
my friends tried to help me, they were beaten and pepper sprayed.
It was a nightmare.” As for whether or not the women were in fact
defending Blivens, Rucker said she didn’t know him and never saw
him or the punch he allegedly threw. Police representatives met
with several of the students after the meeting in hopes of getting
their official testimony for the ongoing investigation.


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