The lawyer of three men charged with assaulting Merced police officers questioned the department’s training on Monday and blamed the officers for “instigating” the violence last year at a downtown hookah lounge.
Charges were filed in June against Isa Bey, 23, and Nedir Bey, 21, both of Oakland, and Ciasonne Ratto-Foster, 21, of Richmond, following a nearly yearlong investigation. The brothers and their cousin pleaded not guilty on Monday through their attorney, Michael Cardoza.
The incident took place July 9, 2017, inside the former Chandelier’s Hookah Lounge on Main Street, where police clashed with a party of mostly black college students.
Officers came inside with weapons drawn, Cardoza said, and the party-goers were naturally curious and began to ask police what they were doing.
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“This is manifest incompetence on behalf of the police department,” he said on Monday.
Police have said they were at the lounge because they believed a 23-year-old robbery suspect was inside. He was apparently not there when police arrived.
“Who in command decided to send all these police into a peaceful party?” Cardoza asked. “What if they found him?”
Merced police were risking a potential gun battle with the suspect in a crowded room, he said, when they could have waited outside. Or, approached the party-goers without a show of force.
According to Merced County Superior Court records, Nedir Bey was charged with a felony count of battery on police, as well as a misdemeanor count of police battery and a misdemeanor count of obstructing police. Court records show Isa Bey and Ratto-Foster each were charged with misdemeanor counts of police battery.
Cardoza said the charges against his clients amount to a “new Jim Crow,” referring to the practice of racial segregation and unfair treatment to people of color. The defendants will be soon entering the workforce and their options could be affected if convicted of crimes, he said. The older Bey graduated from UC Merced in the spring.
“These young men have been affected enough by these arrests,” he said.
The Merced Police Department disagrees with the defense attorney. The officers acted professionally after meeting a hostile crowd, according to Police Capt. Bimley West.
The officers assessed whether the man they were looking for was considered dangerous and made a plan to arrest him, he said.
“The officers, they were there looking for someone,” he said. “The officers did not go there with any intent to disrupt the party or the people who were there.”
West said the party-goers should have complied with the commands from officers. If any officers act improperly, the residents could complain to supervisors, file a complaint or bring up a lawsuit, he said.
“There’s a course of action the citizens could take other than putting their hands on the officer,” he said.
Footage from the incident at Chandelier’s Hookah Lounge showed officers shouting at students, and one officer firing what police identified as a “sage” weapon, striking at least one person.
UC Merced students have previously said another Bey brother, Majied Bey, was the student struck by the sage weapon and said Ratto-Foster was hit by a Taser. A police report confirmed both of those uses of force.
This is a developing story that will be updated later today.