A pretrial hearing in the case of a Berkeley teenager charged with battery on a peace officer and resisting arrest was rescheduled yesterday after lawyers for the defendant asked Berkeley Superior Court Judge Carol Brosnahan for additional time to gather evidence in the case.
“There are some pictures that were taken of my client and we have additional witnesses that we need to interview,” said defense lawyer Arthur Kennedy Mitchell of the office of Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris.
Mitchell said yesterday that he also had not yet reviewed a police dispatch tape of the incident. Deputy District Attorney David Lim agreed yesterday to postpone the hearing until Aug. 30.
Keith Stephens, a starting running back last fall on the Berkeley High football team, was arrested June 1 after a traffic stop in West Berkeley. According to police, Stephens got out of his mother’s 1996 Dodge Intrepid and attacked police officer Tim Gardner, pinning him to the ground. In the ensuing scuffle, police say, members of Stephens’ family joined a confrontation with Berkeley police officers who had responded to a radio call for an “officer down.” Stephens’ aunt and sister were also arrested in the incident but have not been charged.
Stephens is African-American and his family maintains that race played a role in the incident. Civil rights attorney Burris, who specializes in cases involving police brutality, has indicated he may file a civil complaint against the Berkeley Police Department.
The Berkeley DA’s office denies that race was a factor.
“They think it’s a race-based attack on a young black man,” said Deputy DA Lim. “If I thought that was (true) I would dismiss the case,” he said.
Lim added that he has a different explanation for what transpired after police stopped the 18-year-old on Channing Way after noticing his car had expired tags, but he declined to elaborate.
“We have a pretty solid theory about why he did what he did,” Lim said Monday. “It’s not as random as it would appear to be, but I’m not willing to divulge (our theory) until this is resolved or goes totrial.”
If the case does go to trial it will be transferred from Berkeley to Oakland Superior Court. Stephens faces a maximum sentence of 2 years in jail and a $2,000 fine.
Defense attorneys say the charges are groundless.
“My client did nothing wrong,” attorney Mitchell said after yesterday’s brief hearing. “He’s basically innocent of all charges.”
Stephens, 5’10” and solidly built, graduated from Berkeley High this spring and is currently enrolled at San Francisco City College, where he is spending the summer working out with the football team. Stephens and three family members were present outside the courtroom yesterday, but Mitchell said he preferred that Stephens not speak with the press.
Author Meredith Maran, who spent the past year writing a book about three Berkeley High students, including Stephens, told the Daily Planet that, according to family members, the police put Stephens in a choke hold and beat him with clubs. Maran says that as many as fifteen squad cars appeared on the scene in the melee that followed the traffic stop. But Deputy DA Lim said only four additional officers had responded to the scene.
In researching her book, Maran attended classes with Stephens and visited his home. She has taken on an advocacy role in the case.
“He’s not violent,” Maran said of Stephens. “He has a big personality, he has lots of charisma and charml. He’s very funny; he’s not docile,” she said.
“I never would have wished this on Keith,” Maran added. “He missed the prom and his last few weeks of school were dominated by being arrested and beaten.”