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$5000 Settlement in False Arrest of Activist Downtown

The City of Santa Cruz and Sushi Now owner Matisse Selman agreed to an out of court settlement of $5000 with activist Robert Norse who they falsely arrested on January 30, 2002.

City of Santa Cruz Police Department Sgt. Loran Baker arrested longtime activist Robert Norse for "obstructing the sidewalk" on a "citizen's arrest" from Sushi Now! owner Matisse Selman on January 30, 2002. After videotaping him for several days, Baker then handcuffed and transported Norse to the local police station - though the "crime" was a minor infraction normally handled like a traffic ticket. This was the third time within a 7 month period that Baker had custodially arrested Norse on charges that were later dropped or were never even filed.

Attorney Kate Wells, a long time Santa Cruz civil rights lawyer, along with attorneys Jim and Rhonda Fossbinder, then sued the City, Selman, and Baker in Federal Court for false arrest and violation of the First Amendment right to speak and assemble. Two years later on September 14, the Santa Cruz City Council approved an out-of-court settlement of $5000. Norse interviewed Kate Wells on Free Radio Santa Cruz. Selections from that interview are printed here and in the upcoming October issue of Street Spirit newspaper.

Audio: mp3 45.9 Megabytes of Robert's Interview w/ Attorney Kate Wells

[ HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom) I Archive of Robert Norse audio from FRSC ]

Winning Against Bullies in Blue & the Attorneys Who Love Them

Educating Sergeant Baker and the City Attorney in Federal Court

by Robert Norse
Story & Interview for October 2004 Street Spirit


City of Santa Cruz Police Department Sgt. Loran Baker arrested longtime activist Robert Norse for "obstructing the sidewalk" on a "citizen's arrest" from Sushi Now! owner Matisse Selman on January 30, 2002, . After videotaping him for several days, Baker then handcuffed and transported Norse to the local police station--though the "crime" was a minor infraction normally handled like a traffic ticket. This was the third time within a 7 month period that Baker had custodially arrested Norse on charges that were later dropped or were never even filed.

When arrested, Norse had been signing up people, urging a public boycott of Sushi Now!, for its initiative removing "undesirables" from the sidewalk by privatizing a 40' swath of sidewalk--removing a public seating area where youth and poor folk had often gathered. Selman and City Attorney John Barisone dragged Norse through seven months of court action, and then dropped the prosecution on the day of trial.

Attorney Kate Wells, a long time Santa Cruz civil rights lawyer, along with attorneys Jim and Rhonda Fossbinder, then sued the City, Selman, and Baker in Federal Court for false arrest and violation of the First Amendment right to speak and assemble. Two years later on September 14, the Santa Cruz City Council approved a our-of-court settlement of $5000. Norse interviewed Kate Wells for Free Radio Santa Cruz (archived at www.santacruzcopwatch.org/robert website under the filename brb092604.mp3 after 9-26-04). Selections from that interview are printed here.


Kate Wells: ….This wasn't just some cop shooting from the hip. They actually were videotaping you for several days, taking an officer's time to sit there and videotape you. They called in Deputy Chief Patty Sapone.

This was a collaborative effort between the police and the City. Interestingly enough, they were also able to enlist the assistance of a private citizen ...[to] take the heat off themselves by getting Mr. Selman, Sushi Now [owner], to make a citizen's arrest.

….I do want to talk a bit about this whole movement of gentrification that's happening not just in downtown Santa Cruz. It's happening, for instance, at the Rancho Del Mar Shopping Center down in Aptos [a wealthy bedroom community several miles south of Santa Cruz]. ... The businesses are willing pretty much to cut off their noses to spite their faces... They make such ridiculous rules that nobody wants to come in.... They have to make it appear that no one's welcome, so they don't appear to be discriminating against what they consider to be unsavory types.

Norse: The "H" word?

Wells: Well, that, and not just the homeless. Even just people who look different. In Aptos, a very affluent area, the people ... being beset by law enforcement, ... just look different. They're not homeless. They just have beards. ... They smoke. Kids doing things that kids do that are harmless. They [the merchants] just don't want to see them. They don't want them around. They have put up barriers to them being around. These barriers also deflect [other] people.

There's not one welcome sign, for instance, in front of the Coffee Roasting Center in Aptos. There is "No Trespassing" There is "No Smoking", "No Loitering". Then they wonder why they don't have any business. And they turned around and blame it on the actual victims of their discrimination. When in fact, if they had just once embraced them, said "gee, let's all sit down together..." It's not as if these people aren't actually shopping in the stores, they are.

Norse: In my case, I was urging a boycott against Matisse Selman's Sushi Now, Ali Baba's Cafe, and New Leaf Market, because they were in essence colluding with the City, the Redevelopment Agency, and the Police Department to eliminate a lot of public seating to deal with what they conceived as a social problem--youth hanging out. ....I actually made up a list of concerns that both sides had. But Selman preferred to go directly to the City and - as a fait accompli - ...have the entire area privatized. It was done very quickly. It was announced in the newspaper on a Friday and passed at City Council the next Tuesday with virtually no discussion or debate. So I called for a boycott. On January 30, 2002, as people were pledging themselves not to patronize these different businesses, Sgt. Baker struck...

Wells: There was a specific exception in the law for constitutional activity, which clearly you were engaged in. All of this b.s. about blocking the sidewalk--and that's the irony of all this--here the City Attorney, and the Deputy Chief in charge of downtown, all collaborated together and cited you for something they couldn't legally cite you for.

Norse: After sitting down at Sushi Now and having a meal and a chat with the owner while parking the squad car in the street and blocking traffic while they did it.

Wells: It's a matter of the privatization of the police force by the merchant class. This is happening not only on a local scale here, but on a global scale. It's literally no different than the privatization of our armed forces--the military--to protect our corporate interests like oil and other things.

What should happen is that when these merchants come to complain, "gosh we don't like this homeless person sitting out front because he looks funny and he smells, " the reaction of the police should be, "well, gee, we're sorry but that's part of doing business and part of being open to the public." What has attracted people to this community has been... the tolerance of differences. The town was a very colorful town. You could walk down the street and there were jugglers, people sitting out in the Cooperhouse plaza just listening to music, etc. That was what distinguished us from, say, Carmel. I call it the "Carmel-ization" of Santa Cruz. They have eliminated that unique quality that made Santa Cruz fun and interesting to visit. And then they whine and cry and say "why isn't anyone coming here?"

There's a complete double standard.

Wells: These people--like Jerry Henry and Richard Quigley down at the Rancho Del Mar Shopping Center [two activists repeatedly cited for "interfering with a business" for simply being present and declining to leave]--are constantly subjected to assaults and even batteries. People grabbing them, knocking coffee out of their hands. Jerry Henry, for instance, got attacked by this individual in an automobile the other day. They have, in fact, a tape recording that says something like, "oh, I missed you"--quite clearly the guy was trying to use his vehicle as a deadly weapon. So Jerry tried to make a citizen's complaint. They [the Santa Cruz Sheriff's Department] would take nothing. They wouldn't even note it as an incident. ...If, in fact, the manager of the Coffee Roasting Company said, "Jerry looked at me funny," immediately he's cited for looking funny at her. And if he does it twice, he's hauled off to jail. ... They're willing to bend and break the law in order to do the bidding of these private businesses.

[In your case]...It's a violation of not only your First Amendment rights, but false arrest under the 4th Amendment and seizure of your body. They had no lawful purpose, no probable cause....The reason they took you into custodial arrest--a further violation of your Constitutional rights--is because while they were citing you, you were telling the public what was going on, doing a running commentary in a larger-than-life voice about what they were doing... if you piss off an officer in conjunction with them giving you a jaywalking ticket, they can take you into full custodial arrest with all of the attendant searches, fingerprinting, booking.

Norse: And then charge you for the booking later if you're found guilty, $150 Why do you think the City Council agreed to settle...?"

Wells: Their argument's going to be "it cost more to take it to trial than the $5000 settlement." I see it differently....In the Blue Lagoon case, they offered zero in settlement before trial because they thought they could win [City ultimately paid out over $1 million to the owners as restitution for ongoing police harassment]... Any time that happens it's a little shocking to the City Council. One of the problems we have in Santa Cruz is...a City Attorney who has everything to gain from litigation going on, rather than settling in some manner that makes sense to both sides. The longer it continues, the more money he makes.... Other city's City Attorneys are on a salary basis, only get so much money. Their motivation is to settle such cases.

The City Council depends on information that comes to them from the City Attorney's office, which can be slanted any way they want.

Norse: Why wouldn't the city attorney in my case then, take it to trial, if he has everything to gain?

Wells: Because we embarrassed...him in the Blue Lagoon case....When there is a case that appears to have absolute liability, which is your case, it is smarter for the City to settle than it is to take it to the bitter end and lose.

Norse: It also might be an election campaign coming up. All four City Council incumbents are running for reelection including Mayor Scott Kennedy. Is this decision going to have any significant effect on how the law is enforced?...

Wells: Yeah, it's had a deterrent effect. We have finally educated them about their own law.

Afterword: On September 22, 2004, Baker was observed circling the block in his squad car and videotaping the homeless civil rights table, located 10' from the site of Norse's January 2002 arrest.

Robert Norse can be reached at Norseorse3@hotmail.com. He has a twice-weekly radio show, Bathrobespierre's Broadsides, that streams live at www.freakradio.org Thursdays 6-8 PM and Sundays 9:30 AM to 1 PM.

 
 


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Comments

Re: $5000 Settlement in False Arrest of Activist Downtown

Its amazing the amount of collusion I witnessed in this case. Downtown merchant, Matisse Selman conspired with Sgt."Butchie" Baker, City Attorney George Kovacevich, AND Deputy Chief Patty Sapone to violate Robert Norse's civil rights when they arrested him for placing a card table on a 20 foot section of sidewalk for "obstructing" the sidewalk!! The City even had Baker parked for two days videotaping the table! The police video, provided as part of the discovery process showed no obstruction of the sidewalk at any point.

In addition, after Baker arrested Norse, Officer Teaford arrested a HUFF member who was also staffing the political table, bent her hand back so she was screaming in pain.

Unbelievable!!
 

Re: $5000 Settlement in False Arrest of Activist Downtown

Yeah! Another few months where you don't have to get an actual job! Quite a nice racket you've got going!
 

Re: $5000 Settlement in False Arrest of Activist Downtown

Congradulations Kate and Robert.
Finally, a couple of months where you both get paid for the positive, community building work you are doing. Thank you! Keep it up!
 

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