UC Merced student says he didn't hit officer

He dropped baton during confrontation in garage.

November 24, 2010 

California Tuition Hike

Protesters are handcuffed after breaking a line of University of California police officers at the entrance to the University of California Campus in San Francisco, Calif. on Wednesday Nov. 17, 2010. Students clashed with police outside a meeting of the UC Board of Regents, which is scheduled to vote on another tuition increase. UC spokesman Pete King says police arrested at least 16 protesters who tried to cross a police barricade at the building where the regents were meeting on the San Francisco campus. (AP Photo/The Oakland Tribune, Laura A. Oda) MANDATORY CREDIT

LAURA A. ODA — AP

Peter Howell, 19, a UC Merced student who was arrested this past Wednesday and charged with a felony for allegedly assaulting a police officer with a deadly weapon, said in an exclusive interview Tuesday that he didn't assault the officer.

The alleged incident occurred during a protest over UC tuition hikes.

Howell was released from San Francisco County Jail on Friday, and charges haven't yet been filed with the San Francisco District Attorney's Office. The case is still under investigation by UC San Francisco police.

Howell said that the incident that led to his arrest occurred when a group of 100 students crowded behind him in a parking garage and pushed him into officer Jared Kemper, a campus police officer from UC Irvine.

"I put my hands on my chest and backpedaled," he said. "I was trying to get away. (Officer Kemper) shoved through me, and he may have lost control of his baton. You can hear it rattle on the ground in a video. At no point did I strike him on the head, so I believe that statement was false."

Howell was referring to a video on KTVU.com, in which an audible rattle is heard after a struggle between Howell and Kemper.

In a news briefing last Wednesday afternoon after the protest, UC San Francisco Police Chief Pamela E. Roskowski said the assault charge stemmed from an incident in which a UC police officer was rushed in the community center garage by a group of about 100 individuals who surrounded the officer. He was injured when he was struck in the head with the baton.

After his baton was taken, he drew his gun to protect himself, and called for help from other officers' assistance.

Howell was arrested after the incident and taken to jail early the following morning.

"I feel like a great injustice has been done when there was clear video evidence," he said. "I don't feel like it was right for them to say that I was violent against the police officer when there were videos of the event. I would like to see an investigation launched into why officer Kemper pulled his gun on the crowd."

Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or joppenheim@mercedsun-star.com.

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