Campus police at University of California, Irvine will in the near future refer anti-Israeli event disrupters of a May 3 pro-Israel event to Orange County prosecutors, according to a UCI spokesperson. Referral will occur, says the spokesperson, as soon as the campus police investigation concludes.
If so, UCI will be the second UC campus, after UCLA, to refer loud and raucous anti-Israel disrupters to prosecutors for violation of California’s statutes prohibiting disruption of public meetings, disturbing the peace, and conspiracy to do either.
After the police referral, it will be up to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to decide whether actual prosecution should ensue. Rackauckas previously made history with the 2011 prosecution and conviction of the famous “Irvine 11,” who disrupted Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren in 2010 when he spoke at UCI. Rackauckas is considered one the state’s most seasoned, no-nonsense DAs.
What's the background?
The new UCI case arises from a May 3 effort by UCI’s College Republicans to host a panel with Israeli Reservists on Duty. After about 40 minutes, a parade of anti-Israel agitators filed in to stage a well-orchestrated and unruly disruption, using a bullhorn and shouting derogatory chants.
The disruption was documented by at least two dozen videos. reviewed by this writer, including this long video at minute 42:00. After the disrupters were ushered out, the boisterous disorder continued to disrupt from the corridor under police protection, according to the videos.
Three statutes pertain.
● Title 11, Sec. 403 concerns meeting disruption. “Every person who … willfully disturbs or breaks up any assembly or meeting … is guilty of a misdemeanor.” This was the very statute Rackauckas used to successfully prosecute and convict the “Irvine 11.”
● Title 11, Sec. 415 involves disturbing the peace. The statute calls for jail time for “any person who maliciously and willfully disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise” and also “any person who uses offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.” A bullhorn was used to hurl provocations at the UCI event, and attendees reported they had to cover their ears due to the continuous cacophony.
● Title 11, Sec. 182, a conspiracy statute, can be invoked when “two or more persons conspire to commit any crime.” The May 3 UCI protesters are seen filing into the room as a group, as viewable on the video at minute 41:10, and engaging in coordinated disruption thereafter.
A key disrupter with her face covered, frustrating identification, seen at minute 42:45, can be observed full-face and unmasked at minute 42:09.
Did the university administration play a role in this?
If the UCIPD refers the case for prosecution, it will be an enormous turnabout for a campus where many of the disrupted students and community members feel the university administration itself actually stage-manages such disruptions.
Kimo Gandall, president of the College Republicans, stated, “To many of us in the room, it seemed very suspicious— as if the entire disruption was pre-arranged in advance with the administration and the UCIPD. The disrupters were allowed in, protested loudly for about 10 minutes, and then all left on cue when given a hand signal by the UCIPD to leave.”
Debbie Glazer, a leading local attorney in StandWithUs’s pro bono legal network who attended the event, echoed a similar sentiment, stating it appeared the UCI police and/or the administration actually "enabled" or "helped to facilitate" the disruptive incident.
At minute 43:08 on the main video, UCI Dean of Students Rameen Talesh can be seen casually whispering to one of the main disrupters. A little more than a minute later, at video spot 44:47, that same disrupter is seen casually putting his hat on and preparing to leave. Twenty seconds later, the disrupters begin a coordinated exit en masse, with police simultaneously giving a hand sign pointing to the corridor. Protesters then continued their loud disruption in the corridor overseen by uniformed UCI police, who set up a protective perimeter for the protesters, documented in unpublished videos.
A UCI spokesperson explained that Talesh recalled that at video mark 43:08, “he asked the protesters to stop disrupting the speaker and the event, or else the situation would escalate to UCIPD action, given the amplified sound and disruption of the club event.”
There's a history here
Ironically, a May 31, 2017, special UCI Senate report on campus police conduct describes an entrenched system designed to enable protest and even shield protesters from criminal referral. On page 16, in a section focused on “Campus Events and Protests,” the report states, “When there are concerns about a possible student protest on campus,” the police shall “insure that students may proceed with the protest with as little interference as possible.” The study adds that the administration deploys “administrators who serve on the Event Management Team [to] do most of the on-the-ground interactive work with protesters and avoid having uniformed police officers be a visible presence. Team members themselves try to de-escalate situations when they become volatile and try to keep some physical distance between protesters and counterprotesters. … Police are trained … to avoid intervention unless or until the physical safety of individuals is at risk. “
On page 17, in a section subheaded “Officer Discretion,” the UCI Senate report states, “the officers who work for the UCIPD exercise broad discretion in their responses to misdeeds. If officers observe conduct that violates campus rules or state or local laws, they have the discretion to ignore the conduct.” The report continues, “in some circumstances police officers may refer students to campus misconduct proceedings rather than to the criminal justice system. … For example, if students are involved in the types of misconduct that routinely happen on college campuses such as underage drinking, public intoxication, or violations of nuisance ordinances, then the police department often investigates and resolves the incidents through internal campus proceedings rather than handing the cases over to the Orange County District Attorney for criminal prosecution.”
In the section’s conclusion, the report confirms, “UCIPD officers are trained to be student caretakers and can work to insulate students from involvement in the criminal justice system.”
Mitch Danzig is a former NYC police officer and a Southern California attorney who works with StandWithUs on campus issues. About the UCI report, he said, “Equal protection and equal treatment under the law is fundamental. Looking at that report [the UCI police evaluation] … it seems UCI favors anti-Jewish speech or protest over the rights of Jewish and pro-Israel students.”
A university spokesperson stressed that the UCI Senate probe is “just a report written for the academic UCI Senate. It does not reflect official police policy.”
How did they get the police to take action?
At first, it seemed that the May 3 disruption would be just another example of a pro-Israel or Jewish event shut down by belligerent disruption. UCI police made no arrests. Various individuals tried to make official police complaints with no results.
Pro-Israel activist Barry Forman videotaped his attempt to lodge an official complaint with a policeman. In doing so, Forman can be heard on the tape — over protester tumult — quoting §403 and other statutes. In addition, Forman’s efforts to get Talesh to instruct police to act were also rebuffed, as shown on one of Forman’s unpublished videos reviewed.
Kimo Gandall, president of UCI’s College Republicans, said, “In the middle of the event, they asked me what to do? I asked for police to take action. An officer responded, ‘If they had to detain somebody, they would have end our event.’ Later, I spoke to a different officer who asked me what happened? I told him in words what he could see in front of his own eyes. Later in May, they did contact me, but still no action was taken.”
In contrast, in 2010, when Ambassador Oren spoke at UCI, police immediately removed protesters without giving them time to cause a disruption. More than one attendee of the May 3 event suggested that the UCI police operates at two different levels of enforcement that leave small student groups vulnerable. Only at large and prominent events, such as the 2010 Oren speech, sponsored by the Jewish Federation, critics suggest that disrupters are often immediately arrested. A suggestion of a two-tiered enforcement policy can be seen in the UCI Senate report which states, “When public intoxication occurs at a large public event … there is a greater likelihood that student misconduct will be handled through the criminal justice system rather than the campus misconduct system.”
Everything at UCI changed after the police reversal at UCLA. At UCLA, anti-Israel agitators belligerently shut down a May 17, 2018, panel sponsored by Students Supporting Israel. Despite promises, UCLA police refused to take any action, claiming no formal police complaints were received. Following media revelations, the Louis D. Brandeis Center and StandWithUs mobilized attorneys to walk students into the UCLA police station to formally file police complaints under supervised conditions. Those complaints resulted in a criminal referral to the Los Angeles prosecutor, who is now actively reviewing the case. At press time, LA supervising prosecutor Spencer Hart has asked for a second wave of police investigation to augment his probe.
After the UCLA development, StandWithUs turned its attention to similar campus disruptions, including the raucous May 3 invasion of the Reservists on Duty panel at UCI. On Aug. 17, Yael Lerman, StandWithUs legal director, dispatched an attorney to walk Gandall into the police station for a formal complaint and arranged for other formal complaints. For example, Glazer’s five-page statement included a list of the laws violated and concluded “that the UCI Police and the UCI Administration were not interested in protecting the safety of the audience members or of enforcing explicit UCI policies.”
Lerman concluded, “The turnaround would have never occurred except for what happened at UCLA.”
A UCI spokesperson insisted there was no advance collaboration between the disrupters and the UCI police or administration. “The event management tried to de-escalate that day. But now we are actively taking steps,” the spokesperson said.
Edwin Black is the New York Times bestselling author of "IBM and the Holocaust" and "Financing the Flames." He can be followed @Edwinblackbook. Anyone with information regarding disruptions at any UC campus may send it confidentially to firstname.lastname@example.org.