SAN FRANCISCO - More information has come out about the arrests made by California Highway Patrol officers following a protest demonstration that shut down part of the Bay Bridge on Thursday.
The CHP said 80 people were arrested. However, some of those arrested said they were simply viewers and bystanders who got stuck in the traffic backup and were wrongfully accused of being part of the protest and detained.
"I feel so violated. I'm a U.S. Citizen, a retired firefighter and paramedic," said Masoud Barukzai of Pleasanton. Barukzai is among the dozens of people arrested on the Bay Bridge.
Barukzai said he was on his way to the airport, to catch a flight for his current job as a medical device specialist and found himself 100 feet away from a demonstration on the Bay Bridge.
Protesters had shut down the westbound lanes, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
He said after waiting in his truck, he and many other stranded drivers walked closer to the demonstration. He said they took out their cell phones and captured video of the protest. He said he was curious about the commotion and that the impromptu shutdown of the Bay Bridge seemed historic and worth filming.
"I didn't have a flag. I never waived anything. I never spoke anything," he recalled.
Barukzai said his problems began when he returned to his truck. Police came to arrest him, accusing him of being one of the protesters causing the disruption.
"They forcibly removed me from my vehicle. I told them I had nothing to do with it. I'm a law-abiding citizen. Yes, I did step out and walk around like everybody else, that's not illegal," he said.
Barukzai said there were other people arrested for watching or taking video of the protesters.
A nearby driver tried to vouch for him.
"Literally all I did was when I saw they were taking people out of their cars, I was saying that it was illegal," said Lauren Tompkins, a physics professor at Stanford University who spoke up for some of the bystanders being arrested. She, in turn, was arrested.
Tompkins and Barukzai were both arrested, zip tied, and sent to San Francisco Jail, where they were booked on misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and failure to disperse.
"I'm a Middle-Eastern, Afghani-American male," Barukzai said. "There were other people there in scrubs, there was a surgeon there I was talking to. Nurses, business professionals, none of those people got arrested. When they walked up to me, they saw what I looked like, and at that point, they made the decision you're getting arrested."
The CHP has not responded to claims that some drivers were wrongly accused or profiled.
During the protest, the CHP said officers were going on foot into the backup on the bridge and looking for people in their cars who they believe were tied to the protest.
"I understand that individuals get out of their cars, they look around to see what's happened. They are not going to be subject to arrest," said Chief Ezery Beauchamp, commander of the CHP Golden Gate Division. "They'll be arrested when we have 100% confidence that they are out here breaking the law."
Barukzai said that was not the case for him and several others arrested that day.
"I want to make sure this does not continue to happen to people who are just being normal, concerned citizens going about their daily lives," Barukzai said.
Barukzai said he plans to find an attorney and contest the charges against him.
He has a court date set for December 20.