A graduate student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is suing UC police officers, alleging that the officers clubbed her on the head and body early last year, causing a concussion and other injuries.
The alleged event took place during the UC Santa Cruz grading strike in early 2020, when graduate students engaged in a work stoppage to pressure the university into adjusting stipends to account for increased cost of living. The first full day of the strike, graduate students held a picket line at the university entrance.
“That afternoon, police officers aggressively arrested a young woman who was delivering water to the UCSC picketers. This caused picketers to gather near the police car, chanting. DOE officers then charged precipitously into the crowd from behind the picketers without warning, hitting and shoving people with their billy clubs,” the complaint reads. (“DOE” is a reference to John Doe. Those officers have not been identified by the plaintiff, and the complaint alleges that the University of California is withholding information about the officers involved in the incident.)
The complaint alleges that police officers did not give dispersal orders before using their clubs and did not give the plaintiff, Sabrina Shirazi, any indication of what to do to avoid the use of force. She was not arrested, and the complaint argues that she did not present a threat to officers. She had a concussion and soft tissue damage that took her out of work for a period of weeks.
“Defendants’ actions deprived plaintiff of her rights to freedom of speech, expression and association; to be free from the use of excessive and/or arbitrary force; and to be free from unreasonable, summary punishment, all guaranteed by the United States and California Constitutions,” the complaint reads.
Shirazi, who is a candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology, has said she believes she was targeted for her ethnicity and darker-skinned appearance. She is of Iranian and Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.
The complaint names Nader Oweis and Greg Flippo as defendants, along with up to 50 unidentified officers who were present at the scene. Oweis was the chief of police at the time of the event, and Flippo, who still works in his position, was the lieutenant.
A spokesperson for UC Santa Cruz said the university just received the complaint Thursday and is reviewing the claims closely.
“UC Santa Cruz expects all its employees to foster and maintain a supportive educational environment for our students. We take seriously any allegations of harm to those in our campus community,” the spokesperson said via email. “Our initial review indicates that the account presented by the plaintiff is not an accurate description of the incident. However, we will address these allegations in the course of the litigation.”