The Sacramento City Attorney’s office today dismissed nine misdemeanor cases of protesters arrested at the Occupy Sacramento encampment at Cesar Chavez Park – and pro bono lawyers said they expected dozens of cases to be dismissed over the next week.
Another seven people are scheduled to have their charges dismissed Friday. Another nine, including anti-war mom Cindy Sheehan, will have charges dropped early next week.
In all, charges are expected to be dismissed or not filed against 40 individuals, the City has indicated to Occupy Sacramento lawyers. The Sacramento Police have made 84 arrests at the park since October 6.
The dismissal took place as police departments have cracked down on Occupy encampments in New York City, Oakland, Portland and other cities throughout the nation, apparently as part of a coordinated effort by federal agencies under the Obama administration to squash dissent.
“After evaluating the facts of each case and criminal history of each defendant, the City Attorney’s office has determined that the arrest and jail time that each dismissed defendant served achieved the People of the State of California’s demand for substantial justice,” City Attorney Eileen Teichert said in a statement.
The office said it would move forward with prosecuting those protesters with multiple arrests for “violating” the park hours ordinance. The city is proceeding with charges against nine defendants.
Vindication for the Constitution
“This is a step in the right direction,” said Josh Kaizuka, one of 36 volunteer lawyers assisting on the case, in reacting to the dismissals.
“This is vindication for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” said Cres Vellucci, the vice-chair of the ACLU Board of Directors in Sacramento, who was arrested October 6 for being at Cesar Chavez Park beyond a curfew.
“There is no doubt that Defendant was participating in an organized meeting intended to vocalize a community’s disapproval of our nation’s distribution of wealth,” Kaizuka said in the filing. “This dissent was a political statement, and was, by all accounts, conducted in a peaceful manner…defendant was vocalizing his dissent at precisely the place where we, as a community, would expect: the town square.”
Kaizukasaid, in the “Demurrer,” that by arresting Vellucci and 83 others since Oct. 6 at Cesar Chavez Park, city officials and police “impermissibly interfered with constitutionally protected speech, at a place that for over 150 years has been the platform to protest for the right of speech and assembly. Cesar Chavez Plaza, in fact, is built on the location of the original California State Capitol Building site.”
Kaizuka called the charges “vague,” and asked the court to throw out the case.
Karen Bernal, chair of the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party (whose certification is currently in limbo) is one of the 9 defendants whose case was dismissed today. Bernal was arrested on October 16, along with Cindy Sheehan and other protesters.
“I’m happy that the case was dismissed, but I’m thinking about all of the money that the city spent on arrests and prosecution of protesters when there are so many other real problems that the city has to deal with,” said Bernal after her case was dismissed.
The protesters were originally arrested for “unlawful assembly.” However, District Attorney Jan Scully, stating that “no crime had been committed,” refused to prosecute the protesters for exercising their First Amendment rights.
In an Orwellian move condemned by civil rights lawyers, the City of Sacramento then decided to prosecute the protesters on new charges – remaining in the park after curfew and loitering.
Arrests coordinated with Homeland Security and other federal officials?
As the police crackdowns continue, an investigative news piece in the examiner.com on November 15 revealed that the repression of the Occupy movement was apparently aided by officials from Homeland Security and other federal law enforcement agencies (http://www.examiner.com/top-news-in-minneapolis/were-occupy-crackdowns-aided-by-federal-law-enforcement-agencies).
“Over the past ten days, more than a dozen cities have moved to evict ‘Occupy’ protesters from city parks and other public spaces,” wrote Rick Ellis, Minneapolis Top News Examiner. “As was the case in last night’s move in New York City, each of the police actions shares a number of characteristics. And according to one Justice official, each of those actions was coordinated with help from Homeland Security, the FBI and other federal police agencies.”
“The official, who spoke on background to me late Monday evening, said that while local police agencies had received tactical and planning advice from national agencies, the ultimate decision on how each jurisdiction handles the Occupy protests ultimately rests with local law enforcement,” according to Ellis.
“According to this official, in several recent conference calls and briefings, local police agencies were advised to seek a legal reason to evict residents of tent cities, focusing on zoning laws and existing curfew rules. Agencies were also advised to demonstrate a massive show of police force, including large numbers in riot gear. In particular, the FBI reportedly advised on press relations, with one presentation suggesting that any moves to evict protesters be coordinated for a time when the press was the least likely to be present,” said Ellis.
Vellucci said the revelations by Ellis appeared to confirm what he witnessed at the Occupy Sacramento encampment since the city cracked down on the peaceful, legal protest.
“From the first day in Sacramento, it was obvious the police were waiting for media to leave, as if they were trained to do so,” said Vellucci. “Now there’s evidence that waiting for press to leave, coming out in overwhelming numbers (and using ‘curfew’ laws was all part of advice Sacramento and other cities received from the federal government, including the FBI and Homeland Security.”
For example, Vellucci said that although the curfew begins at 11 pm, the police didn’t begin arresting people until 12:15 am on the first night of the arrests. “They didn’t start arresting people until the media was out of the park,” said Vellucci.
He also noted the overwhelming show of force by the police during the arrests. “Sacramento had as many as 44 vehicles and 80 officers for 4 arrests,” emphasized Vellucci. “There were an average of over 20 police vehicles and 40 officers clad in riot gear each night of the arrests.”
“Now it all makes sense that somebody from the federal government was advising the city on their crackdown,” said Vellucci.
Vellucci noted that Occupy Sacramento lawyers have made a State Public Records Act request of the city to release all of the communications between the police, city staff, City Council and Mayor and the costs incurred regarding the repression of Occupy Sacramento. The city has delayed releasing the documents by two weeks.
For more information, contact: Cres Vellucci, 916-996-9170, http://www.occupysac.org.
The full court brief can be found at: