Pro-Palestine protesters arrested after clash with police outside Cal Poly Rec Center

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Eight people were arrested Tuesday after allegedly trying to break into Cal Poly’s Recreation Center during a protest in support of Palestine.

Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said a group of about 30 to 40 protesters gathered Tuesday outside a career fair being held in the Rec Center. The university had been notified about the pro-Palestine protest in advance, he said.

“A smaller group of the protesters became violent and tried repeatedly to use barricades to smash through the doors of the Rec Center and gain entrance to the fair inside,” Lazier told The Tribune.

A video provided to The Tribune captured the clash between law enforcement and protesters.

In the video, several protesters carrying large wooden signs shaped like riot shields can be seen tugging on metal barricades placed in front of the entrance to the campus building as a pair of officers hold the other ends of the barriers.

At one point more officers run up to the group, and a shout of “get on the ground” can be heard. An officer then appears to throw one of the protesters to the ground, tackling the person and hitting them several times.

That protester was later identified to The Tribune by his roommate as Ollie Lamkin.

The scene then escalates with more people running into the frame amid yelling and shoving between the officers and protesters. During the fray, another protester is tackled to the ground.

In a news release Tuesday evening, the San Luis Obispo Police Department said one of its officers “was forced to protect himself when a protester attempted to take one of his weapons.” The officer responded with a hand strike “to retain his weapon,” the department said.

SLOPD said the incident will be reviewed to determine if the actions taken adhered to the department’s policy.

Lazier said officers with the Cal Poly Police Department were on hand “to provide safety and security at the career fair,” as the event was not open to the general public. The San Luis Obispo Police Department was also called in to help “after the group of protesters started to get violent,” he added.

Lazier said Cal Poly police warned the protesters “several times that they would be arrested if they continued to try to force their way into the event.”

Law enforcement officers arrested a total of eight people, he said, adding it was unclear how many of the people who were arrested or protesting were Cal Poly students. Later, he said the university had been informed three of those arrested were Cal Poly students and five were not.

Some officers and people who were arrested “indicated they had suffered minor injuries,” Lazier said, but none required medical attention.

Lazier said that there didn’t appear to be any significant damage to the Rec Center building.

A still from a video showing the moment protesters and law enforcement clashed in front of the Cal Poly Rec Center on Jan. 23, 2024. A small group of people involved in a pro-Palestine protest allegedly attempted to breaking into the building where a winter career fair was being hosted.
A still from a video showing the moment protesters and law enforcement clashed in front of the Cal Poly Rec Center on Jan. 23, 2024. A small group of people involved in a pro-Palestine protest allegedly attempted to breaking into the building where a winter career fair was being hosted.

Police officer’s use of force on protester ‘disgusting,’ roommate says

According to the San Luis Obispo County Jail front desk, Lamkin was arrested on suspicion of charges of misdemeanor resisting a peace officer, misdemeanor removing a weapon that is not a firearm from a peace officer, misdemeanor inciting a riot and felony resisting a peace officer with threats or violence.

The jail employee told The Tribune the felony charge may change. Lamkin’s bail was set at $50,000.

Claudia Muñoz, Lamkin’s roommate, told The Tribune she was shocked at the officer’s treatment of Lamkin shown in the video.

Lamkin and Muñoz are both in their third year at Cal Poly.

Muñoz was not present at the protest, she said, but was outside the jail trying to help Lamkin on Tuesday afternoon.

“I just started bawling,” Muñoz said as she recalled see the video of Lamkin’s arrest for the first time. “You see someone you love being treated so inhumanely. It’s disgusting.”

Muñoz said she never thought something like this would happen to a friend and thinks it’s important for people to see the force police used against Lamkin.

“I’m just worried that the police or the sheriff might try to make it so that no one really knows what happened (to Lamkin),” she said. “Obviously, they can’t now because we have videos.”

She felt it was unnecessary for the university to call in more police, Muñoz added.

“I understand where they don’t want violence coming into play, but having so many police officers I feel like just becomes more like a herd mentality,” Muñoz said. “I think they’re more likely to do something the more there are.”

According to the jail booking log, protesters Daron Birkholz, Alejandro Buparo, Raleigh Daniel Delk, Sarah Heath, Marcus Hicks and Timothy Jouet, were all arrested on suspicion of charges of felony resisting an executive officer and misdemeanor inciting a riot.

Bail was set at $50,000 for Delk and Heath, according to the jail front desk employee, but bail was unknown for the four other protesters as of Tuesday night.

Another protester, Janine Santos, was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor battery of a peace officer, according to the jail booking log. Santos was released Tuesday on a $5,000 bail, according to the jail front desk employee.

Meanwhile Bassem Wehhab, who attended the protest but is not a Cal Poly student, described his experience in an emailed statement to The Tribune.

Wehhab said he was “peacefully handing out fliers and talking to students and locals about the genocide in Gaza” when at some point the protest escalated.

Wehhab said he thought police were “looking for a spark.”

He called the video of Lamkin’s arrest “absolutely horrific” and said the officers who responded with force at the protest should be fired.

He added he felt the incident was “reflective of the great evil within the Cal Poly administration and the measures they’re willing to take to protect their murderous and corrupt interests in the military industrial complex.”

A still from a video showing the moment protesters and law enforcement clashed in front of the Cal Poly Rec Center on Jan. 23, 2024. A small group of people involved in a pro-Palestine protest allegedly attempted to breaking into the building where a winter career fair was being hosted.
A still from a video showing the moment protesters and law enforcement clashed in front of the Cal Poly Rec Center on Jan. 23, 2024. A small group of people involved in a pro-Palestine protest allegedly attempted to breaking into the building where a winter career fair was being hosted.

Cal Poly president says university won’t tolerate violence, disruption

In a statement, Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong said the university would not tolerate violence or disruption on campus.

“We are a public campus, and we support the rights of all campus community members and visitors to speak their minds — but we will not tolerate violence, disruption, trespassing or other criminal activity,” Armstrong said the statement. “Individuals who wish to engage in the free and peaceful exchange of ideas are always welcome on our campus. Those who would use force and coercion are not.”

According to Lazier, Cal Poly “does not infringe on the rights of community members and visitors to properly exercise their First Amendment rights.”

“The university supports community members’ rights to have their say in a public area, in a way that allows for the expression of opinions without infringing on the rights of others,” he said. “There are many areas of campus that are open to the public and appropriate for public speaking, protests and other forms of free speech — University Union Plaza, Dexter Lawn, external areas of campus buildings, as examples.”

The arrests came a day after a group of pro-Palestine protesters interrupted a town hall meeting in Arroyo Grande attended by U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal.