Police and firefighters respond to a fight at Civic Center Park. Multiple teenagers were pepper-sprayed during the fight. Photo: Citizen reporter

Multiple teenagers were pepper-sprayed during a fight at downtown Berkeley’s Civic Center Park on Thursday afternoon, authorities report.

Details remain slim as officers work to determine what happened, said Officer Byron White, Berkeley Police Department spokesman. Several teenagers have been detained as part of the investigation, but no arrests had been made as of about 2:50 p.m. and BPD had not yet confirmed whether any of the involved individuals are Berkeley Unified students.

White said eastbound Center Street is closed at Martin Luther King Jr. Way, likely because of emergency vehicles in the roadway.

White said the incident appears to have begun around noon when teenagers got into an argument at REALM High School, which is located at 2023 Eighth St. White said three teenagers at REALM had gotten into a heated exchange, and officers responded to the school to attempt to sort it out.

Then, just after 2:20 p.m., police were called to Civic Center Park, where multiple teenagers had been pepper-sprayed. Police said the incident at the park appears to have been related to the problems earlier in the day at REALM.

One witness told police the group of youth numbered five to seven individuals, while others described a group of perhaps 12. Police were still trying to confirm those details as of publication time.

The Berkeley Fire Department is on scene providing treatment to the teenagers who were pepper-sprayed, White said.

One witness told Berkeleyside that the girl who used the pepper spray on the other teens had a large canister of it, similar to what police carry during riots. He said, initially, the teens who were fighting were shoving and punching each other for at least a minute before the girl started spraying: “She did not let up on it. One kid got it hard, poor guy.”

Berkeleyside has asked the Berkeley Unified School District whether it has additional information.

Update, 5:25 p.m. BPD has arrested 28-year-old Lawanda Starks of Berkeley on suspicion of the use or possession of a tear gas weapon. BPD said it is investigating four incidents Thursday that culminated in the fight at Civic Center Park. The altercations began at Jack in the Box on San Pablo Avenue, continued at REALM, re-surfaced on the east side of City Hall, then ultimately led to the fight in the park.

According to BPD, Starks tried to chase a student onto the BHS campus and ultimately used bear spray during the fight that followed. Police recovered the bear spray and a bat at the scene, both of which reportedly were used during the fight.

Berkeley High Principal Erin Schweng sent the following statement to BHS families Thursday. It appears below in full.

Good afternoon BHS families,

We are still piecing together various and conflicting pieces of information, but I want to let you know about an incident today that involved several of our students and at least one adult in which our students were pepper-sprayed.  Six students were treated and released on scene and one student was transported to a local hospital.  No students were detained or arrested, and campus itself was relatively unaffected, but administrators, BPD, and BFD staff responded to the scene, spoke with first responders and contacted parents of the affected students.

We know this incident was related to two earlier incidents today, one at REALM and one in Civic Center Park, and are working with our BPD partners and families to determine next steps.

Thank you,


Berkeleyside updated this story after publication due to the developing nature of events.

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...