A June 16 fight at downtown Santa Barbara nightclub Cooney’s has led to allegations of racism in the Santa Barbara Police Dept., as well as a possible lawsuit from UCSB students.
Four people were arrested after the fight broke out at the club at 1:45 a.m. Friday, June 16, said Lt. Paul McCaffrey, spokesman for the SBPD. On the Tuesday following the incident, a few students who were at the incident spoke at the Santa Barbara City Council meeting to complain about what they consider police brutality and racist actions. They also threatened to sue the police department.
Recently graduated UCSB student Aseye Allah – who was present at the incident — declined comment Tuesday evening about the fight and alleged abuse, and said she would not talk about it until she had acquired an attorney.
According to an e-mail sent by Allah and recent graduate Meron Meshesha to fellow students and community members, Allah and Meshesha were scheduled to be booked on June 26 in relation to the incident.
McCaffrey said several officers were across the street when they witnessed one man strike another at Cooney’s.
McCaffrey said five officers initially responded to the scene, but the crowd later went out of control. The entire downtown police force on duty that night was subsequently called to the bar as backup.
McCaffrey said the crowd became restless and began hurling insults at the officers.
“They were yelling horrible things at us,” McCaffrey said. “It’s not a good feeling when someone accuses you of being a racist. How do you defend yourself against that?”
In addition to the accusations, McCaffrey said several people in the crowd were yelling the names of gangs at the officers.
McCaffrey said officers used pepper spray to control the crowd.
“We did end up using pepper spray to get people back,” McCaffrey said. “It does hurt, but it doesn’t cause injury. If that doesn’t work then you get to levels of force that are likely to cause injury.”
He said there were several Hispanic officers present during the incident as well as one African-American officer.
An investigation into the incident has ensued, and McCaffrey said so far employees of Cooney’s, as well as the business across the street from the bar, have been contacted.
In addition, McCaffrey said invitations to give a statement to the department have been extended to several of the people present that night in the crowd, but no one has responded.
“None of them have agreed to say anything other than to the city council and the media,” McCaffrey said. “We are willing to talk to any of them.”
In order to prevent incidents like the one at Cooney’s, McCaffrey said the SBPD works closely with local clubs and conducts a voluntary training program for employees to prepare them for potential problems.
“We really have very few problems,” McCaffrey said. “I think we are doing a heck of a lot of things right.”
Councilman Brian Barnwell called for an outside audit of the SBPD in order to investigate the department and make improvements, McCaffrey said.
“I don’t think what happened at Cooney’s is driving [the audit],” McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey said that he feels racism is not prevalent in the department.
“It’s not like there’s been an ongoing history of racism in SBPD,” McCaffrey said.