Lawsuit: Berkeley police greeted Black man with, ‘Hey OG,’ improperly arrested him for ‘carrying his flute like a weapon’

BERKELEY — In the summer of 2019, then 73-year-old Richard Worthy made it a daily habit to go for a walk around town with a musical theme: he would dance and play a silver flute that he liked to take with him.

According to a recent federal suit filed last year against Berkeley police, that was all it took for Worthy to get cuffed, threatened with a stun gun, and placed in a mental health hold where doctors promptly found him not a danger to himself or others and released him. Worthy, who is Black, alleges that his race “was the motivating reason” for the officers’ actions.

The suit, filed last August, has been in settlement negotiations since last month. A settlement conference hearing was set for Tuesday afternoon, but a joint statement isn’t due until this May, court records show.

In a September response to the civil complaint, attorneys for the city of Berkeley wrote that officers detained Worthy because “there was probable cause he was a danger to himself or others due to a mental health disorder.” The city’s attorney denied Worthy’s allegations.

According to Worthy’s lawsuit, filed through the Danville civil attorney Sunita Kapoor, Worthy was on a walk, flute in hand, on July 11, 2019 when Berkeley police Ofc. Hernan Villarroel approached him. The suit describes Worthy as a “a highly educated, 73 year-old, African-American Veteran,” but says that Villarroel greeted Worthy by calling out, “Hey OG, you got any ID?” using a slang term acronym for “original gangsta.”

Worthy responded that, “You don’t need an ID to walk the streets of America,” the complaint alleges. During the interaction Villarroel allegedly remarked Worthy was carrying the flute “like a weapon.”

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“When (Worthy) challenged the veracity of the officer’s statement, he threatened to taze Plaintiff, if ‘he didn’t put down the flute,’” the complaint says. “(Worthy) saw three police cars and two other officers. One of the other Officers went to a police car and brought back a Tazer (sic) gun.”

Worthy was arrested a short time later, placed in an ambulance, and taken to Alta Bates Hospital. He was cleared from a mental health hold after a psychiatric evaluation found his “behavior was appropriate, his speech was normal, his thought content was normal,” and that he was was a low risk for suicide, the complaint says.

The suit alleges that from the experience, Worthy “was hurt and injured in his health, strength and activity, sustaining injuries which have caused and continue to cause great mental, pain and suffering.” It seeks unspecified damages.

The allegations are reminiscent of a 2020 controversy in the city of Alameda, where police violently arrested a Black man for dancing a few feet off the sidewalk during a jog. The Alameda District Attorney’s office declined to charge him, and DA Nancy O’Malley publicly criticized the arrest, saying that officers lacked probable cause and should have let him continue on his way.

In Berkeley, the City Council is set to meet Tuesday night to consider significant police reforms, including restricting officers …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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