BERKELEY — A confrontation between animal rights activists and employees at the trendy Comal restaurant in downtown Berkeley ended with a citizen’s arrest of one of the protesters for battery and trespassing, authorities said Thursday.
Members of the protest group, Direct Action Everywhere, said they were upset by the arrest, claiming they had been the ones attacked and battered. The group has staged recent protests around the Bay Area against the slaughter and human consumption of animals.
The confrontation happened about 9:47 p.m. Wednesday at the Mexican restaurant at 2020 Shattuck Ave., which serves meat dishes that include beer-marinated carne asada and wood-grilled chicken livers.
In a news release, the group said it had gone to the restaurant to participate in a “non-violent protest to highlight animal cruelty in the food system.”
Berkeley police said the restaurant general manager repeatedly tried to get the group to leave before he was knocked down by a “chest bump” from a protester later identified as Samuel “Chase” Willis, 34.
The protesters then left the restaurant but were stopped by police.
The restaurant manager then made a citizen’s arrest on Willis. He was taken to Santa Rita Jail where he remained Thursday morning on $10,000 bail.
Protesters said they provided police a video they said showed Willis being assaulted.
Berkeley police Sgt. Andrew Frankel said the sergeant at the scene “reviewed the video which showed the (employee) trying to get the activists out of his restaurant after he had already been battered by the arrested party.
“The sergeant explained to the activists they don’t have a right to protest inside the business after being told to leave. He also explained the (employee) was within his rights to make a citizen’s arrest for trespassing.”
Frankel added that the activists refused to provide the sergeant “with a copy of the recording nor were they willing to allow him to use his camera to copy their video.”
Almira Tanner, an organizer, said the group planned to peacefully protest at the Berkeley Police Department Thursday night.
“We feel that this is about activist repression,” Tanner said. Afterward, the group will go to Comal Restaurant, she added. “We’re going to ask them to drop the charges and stop repressing activism.”
Andrew Hoffman, a partner in Comal Restaurant, in a telephone conversation on Thursday, described the previous night’s scene:
“A large group of people comes through the door with bullhorns and flags. They make a big scene; disrupt service; yell at staff.
“It happens every few months. We call the police. We ask them to leave. They know about how long it takes the cops to get there.
“Last night one of them got physical with one of our staff members, which landed him in jail for the night,” Hoffman continued, adding that the group had left Comal by the time police arrived, and that the arrest occurred elsewhere.
“They hit everyone on the block,” Hoffman said, adding, “It’s part of doing business in Berkeley.”
In a press release, activist Priya Sawhney, who said she was attacked at the restaurant, said “There’s too much violence against both humans and animals in our society. Berkeley is a city of peace and free speech, and it’s time for us to stand behind our community’s values.”
Direct Action Everywhere recently took credit for the posting of a sign at another business in Berkeley, The Local Butcher Shop, that reads, “Attention: Animals’ lives are their right. Killing them is violent and unjust, no matter how it’s done.”
The posting resulted from negotiations with the store’s owners following several demonstrations as part of the group’s “Facing the Truth” campaign, which targets the farm-to-table movement and labels such as “humanely-raised,” “grass-fed,” and “cage-free.”
“The idea behind the Facing the Truth campaign is to dispel the mythology behind meat,” Direct Action Everywhere organizer Wayne Hsiung said in a news release earlier this week titled “Berkeley butcher shop now warns customers against eating animals.” “Animal agriculture is an inherently violent enterprise, and we won’t allow deception for the sake of profit.”
In the past, the group has successfully lobbied the Berkeley City Council to condemn the annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China.
“I respect people’s passion for social causes as well as their right to express their opinions, but the recent action undertaken by animal rights protesters against The Local Butcher Shop is harassment — plain and simple,” Mayor Jesse Arreguin said in a statement issued Friday.
“Demanding that the store hang a sign stating the group’s views in exchange for an end to protests is coercive, improper and not the way to treat a much-loved local business,” he said. “Our independent stores are the lifeline of our community and should not be harassed for simply doing their jobs.
“I support Monica and Aaron Rocchino, owners of The Local Butcher Shop, who are doing more than many other grocers to buy locally sourced animals raised in humane conditions. If you’re against eating meat, don’t eat it, but don’t impose your beliefs on others either.”
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