Police attend to a young woman who was arrested on suspicion of assault, and who was pepper-sprayed, in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on Thursday, Sept. 27. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

A fight among high school students in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on Thursday morning sent one girl to the hospital with a stabbing wound to the torso and resulted in two arrests, police said.

Around 10 a.m., the park, across the street from Berkeley High School, was filled with Berkeley police officers, firefighters, school staff and people who said they witnessed the fight. Many were trying to sort out the chain of events and who was involved.

Berkeley Police spokesman Officer Byron White told Berkeleyside, at the scene, that a young woman had been stabbed and taken to the hospital for treatment. As of about 4 p.m., the 17-year-old, who is from Hayward, was in stable condition despite a stab wound to the torso. Shortly before 6 p.m., the Berkeley Unified School District said the girl had been released from the hospital.

A 16-year-old Berkeley girl was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, White said. During the fight, someone yet to be identified pepper-sprayed the alleged assailant, who was sitting on the ground under a tree in the park around 10 a.m. The girl was treated by police officers, then lifted onto a stretcher and taken to the hospital around 10:30 a.m.

A second arrest also was made at the scene: another 16-year-old girl from Berkeley who had tried to prevent or delay the first arrest, White said. Berkeley Fire provided medical attention to the victim and both the arrested teenagers.

Multiple community members told Berkeleyside they witnessed a police officer use force during the incident.

White told Berkeleyside late Thursday afternoon that a girl had tried to intervene while an officer was attending to the alleged assailant as she suffered the effects of pepper spray. White said the officer told the girl to keep back and stay away, but she continued to advance on them, yelling at the officer, “and that’s when force was applied.”

It was unclear whether the second girl was trying to aid the first one or had some other intent, White said. If it gets to the point when an officer is already trying to hold up a hand to stop someone from advancing, he explained, “that’s too close.”

“Ultimately a second officer had to come to the aid of the first officer, and ended up taking the interfering, non-compliant juvenile into custody,” he said in a statement.

Ellen Holland, who said she was walking by the park in the morning and witnessed part of the incident, contacted Berkeleyside shortly before 10 a.m. to say she had seen an officer punch a girl. Holland said she watched the officer yell at the girl then “get all up in her face and literally punch her.” Holland said the girl fought back and was detained. Another Berkeleyside reader described the girl as a friend of the student who had been stabbed.

White said the officer used her hands to apply force, but declined to go into further detail due to the preliminary stage of the investigation. He said BPD does have a complaint process for those who believe force has been used improperly. White said he could not comment on reports that the officer had punched the girl. But he did say the officer was treated at the scene for an injury to her hand.

Police and firefighters at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park after a fight. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

White said the girl arrested on suspicion of the stabbing is a Berkeley Technology Academy student, while the other two girls attend the Berkeley Independent Studies program. He said the altercation, apparently, was related to “a boy that they wanted to date.”

He described the scene at the park Thursday as “super chaotic,” and said there was an “added degree of complexity dealing with juveniles” because they are “not necessarily forthcoming” about what may have taken place.

White said it wasn’t entirely clear how big the fight was Thursday. He said a BPD school resource officer got to the park “within moments” after hearing a commotion. When he arrived, he found an “agitated crowd.” The stabbing had already taken place.

White said the second girl who was arrested was released to a parent after being taken to the police station but could still face disciplinary action. The other girl was taken to Juvenile Hall in San Leandro.

The Berkeley Unified School District released a statement Thursday morning about the incident.

“Preliminarily, our understanding is that the injured student is stable and being treated,” said the statement. “As always, campus safety and student safety will remain our priority.”

Several people lingered in the park Thursday morning after the fight to give officers reports of what they saw and to watch the aftermath.

“Two girls got in a fight,” said one man. “One got stabbed. The police came and separated it all up.”

One woman said she was in her car, in the parking lot behind the city office building, which borders the park, when the fight broke out nearby.

“My mouth is burning,” said the woman, who declined to give her name. “That pepper spray ain’t no joke.”

Berkeley High Principal Erin Schweng and school safety officers were on the scene at the park as well, and City Councilwoman Cheryl Davila showed up around 10:30 a.m.

This story was updated after publication due to the developing nature of events.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...