Stemming from a fight that occurred at a downtown club in 2006, two former UCSB students recently filed civil charges against the city of Santa Barbara.

UCSB alumni Aseye Allah and Meron Meshesha are seeking damages from the city and members of the Santa Barbara Police Dept. for allegedly engaging in racial discrimination, using excessive force and violating civil rights as well as the Fourth Amendment, which prevents unreasonable search and seizure. The civil case, Aseye Allah et al v. City of Santa Barbara et al, names Meshesha as a co-complainant and lists as co-defendants the police officers present at the nightclub.

On June 16, 2006, Allah and Meshesha were at the now defunct Cooney’s nightclub when a fight broke out as partygoers were beginning to leave for the night. Five police officers initially responded to the disturbance, but the escalating situation eventually drew the entire downtown police force.

Officers used pepper spray to subdue the crowd after other attempts failed. The incident resulted in four arrests, including those of Allah and Meshesha. The women claim the officers used unnecessary force against them because they and other patrons at Cooney’s were African-American.

The civil case, filed in a federal district court in Los Angeles, is currently on hold until a verdict is reached in the criminal case against Allah and Meshesha concerning their June 2006 arrest. The criminal case is set for trial on Jan. 2 at the Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

Paula Waldman, the deputy district attorney handling the criminal case, declined to comment on the details of the case, but did confirm that the district attorney’s office decided not to file charges against the police officers despite the allegations levied by Allah and Meshesha.

“The police officers are not being accused of any crime,” Waldman said. “They are the witnesses to the crime being committed.”

Due to statute of limitations restrictions, Allah and Meshesha have filed their civil case even though the criminal case is unresolved.

Gary S. Casselman, attorney for the women in both the criminal and civil cases, said the outcome of the criminal case will greatly impact the civil case.

“The criminal case isn’t over so we aren’t likely to be able to litigate [the civil case] until [the criminal case] is over,” Casselman said. “[If the girls are convicted in the criminal case], we pretty much have to drop it because the law says you can’t re-litigate a case that has been tried unsuccessfully.”

However, Joe Freeman, Casselman’s co-counsel in the civil case, said a loss in the criminal case would not completely end Allah and Meshesha’s legal pursuits. He said a guilty verdict would only result in the loss of one-third of the approximately 20 causes of action being claimed in the civil case.

“Of course we’ll still go ahead with the civil case,” Freeman said.

Freeman also said he was confident that the civil case would succeed, and said he would take the case through the courts in the likely case that the city refused to settle.

“We have 45 witnesses,” Freeman said. “[The City will settle] only at levels that don’t involve going to City Council, because they don’t want the embarrassment. That doesn’t even begin to compensate.”