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Assaulted and Arrested at City Council Tuesday Afternoon for Trying to Make a Two Minute Pro-Union Speech

On Tuesday, June 14th around 5:30 PM, I was arrested at the podium and charged with "disrupting a public meeting" during the afternoon session of City Council when I insisted on my right to speak for two minutes opposing Agenda Item #13.1 (supporting a local union).
After being physically assaulted by Lt. Steve Clark inside Council Chambers while at the public podium, I was arrested on a citizen's complaint from Mayor Rotkin for "disrupting a public meeting."

Rotkin justified his arrest as enforcement of a new City Council rule which can prohibit members of the public from speaking entirely on all remaining consent agenda items, if they've spoken for more than five minutes on any prior consent agenda items. I believe this rule blatantly violates the Brown (open meetings) Act which requires City Councils to provide speaking time on each agenda item for members of the public.

I was held for forty-five minutes at the police station, had the only tape I made of the incident confiscated, was repeatedly threatened by Lt. Clark, and denied reentry to City Council for the remainder of the afternoon and evening session.

I also have sustained some damage to some of the fingers on my left hand, which are still numb, ten hours after the pain-compliance hold and handcuffing.

I have written an extended account of the arrest, but am facing a criminal misdemeanor charge. I am also trying to stop these Brown Act violations by taking the City Council to federal court (a trial is now scheduled there for February 2006). I will be publishing a longer more detailed discussion.

If anyone witnessed my arrest, I would be grateful if they'd contact me at 831-423-4833. My court date for arraignment is July 20 at 8:30 a.m.

If anyone has suffered any mistreatment from Lt. Clark, I'd also appreciate hearing from them.

Thanks to those who called in to express their concerns. More on this soon.

I encourage community members not to be intimidated by this show of excessive force and to continue to speak their minds and hearts at City Council, if they choose to go there.
 
 


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Comments

Re: Assaulted and Arrested at City Council Tuesday Afternoon for Trying to Make a Two Minute Pro-Union Speech

You ought to be able to get a copy of the community television's recording of the meeting.
 

Camera's turned off prior to Lt. Clark's Assault

The only record made (and the video the public saw) shows me standing at the podium and the microphone and asking for my two minutes "like everyone else".

The photo footage and audio record of Lt. Clark's pain compliance hold and me screaming--all prior to being told I was under arrest--is not on the Council tape.

Mayor Rotkin apparently instructed the cameras to turn away from the arrest scene and cover any sound with music and the message that the Council was recessed and would return in a few minutes.

This is standard practice at Council meetings, apparently to spare the viewers ny discomfort and to discourage "protests".
 

Re: Assaulted and Arrested at City Council Tuesday Afternoon for Trying to Make a Two Minute Pro-Union Speech

Sorry this happened Robert.

It is, however, a good sign that you are doing something right.
 

Re: Assaulted and Arrested at City Council Tuesday Afternoon for Trying to Make a Two Minute Pro-Union Speech

Ahhhh, screaming, excellent, it's good to ham it up for the cameras... ;)
 

Lt. Clark's Violence

Police use of physical force to cause pain prior to announcing an arrest or detention strikes me as an unlawful use of force. It seems particularly in appropriate at a public meeting and even more so when done to a speaker at the podium.

Becky Johnson, currently banned from posting on indymedia, has asked me to post the following comment:

"Reply to N5667:

In the nine years I have worked with Robert Norse, and witnessed six arrests, Robert has never screamed. Why was Lt. Clark using a pain compliance hold on Robert before telling him he was under arrest?

Was his plan just to get Robert to leave the chambers simply by instituting physical pain?"
 

"n5667" Blame The Victims Much?

"n5667" says, “Ahhhh, screaming, excellent, it's good to ham it up for the cameras"

Sure, kind of like how those civil rights protesters in the 60s hammed it up for the cameras by being knocked over when they were hit by water cannons and clubs.

It is too bad that the local so-called "progressive" city government answers free speech with blatant and inexcusable repression.
 

Re: Assaulted and Arrested at City Council Tuesday Afternoon for Trying to Make a Two Minute Pro-Union Speech

"Sure, kind of like how those civil rights protesters in the 60s hammed it up for the cameras by being knocked over when they were hit by water cannons and clubs."

Woah, that's like Michael Jackson comparing himself to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"Was his plan just to get Robert to leave the chambers simply by instituting physical pain?"

Who knows, I've only heard from one source, and it's probably a whee bit biased - but I'm guessing that if there was truly abuse, there was probably more than one person in the chamber who'd speak up about it.
 

Re: Assaulted and Arrested at City Council Tuesday Afternoon for Trying to Make a Two Minute Pro-Union Speech

"but I'm guessing that if there was truly abuse, there was probably more than one person in the chamber who'd speak up about it."

This lacks all insight, since the chambers may have only contained city council members and other like-minded people such as Dick Wilson who only have a record of initiating and promoting police abuse and oppression. Or perhaps there were other people there who were outraged, but this is obviously not a foregone conclusion.
 

Re: Assaulted and Arrested at City Council Tuesday Afternoon for Trying to Make a Two Minute Pro-Union Speech

As for comparing the violence and repression of the Santa Cruz City Council and its police against the homeless and advocates for the homeless to other violence and repression carried out by the U.S. government against the civil rights movement, the comparison is very real.
 

Re: Assaulted and Arrested at City Council Tuesday Afternoon for Trying to Make a Two Minute Pro-Union Speech

In addition my point was that pain compliance holds are designed to injure and cause pain. The fact that such a hold was used on Robert is what is outrageous, not the fact that he responded to pain in a normal human way.
 

Witnesses?

As I mentioned before, I was unable to return to interview the witnesses (to do so would have been to court arrest). So I'm still lookin for more.

There were three people who I've spoken to, who saw and were shocked by the incident. This includes a Sentinel reporter (who says she'll be publishing a story in the Thursday paper).

This was not a staged event or even a planned formal protest. Community TV cameras were intentionally turned away from the incident (and City Council audio recording turned off), so there is less documentation than at earlier arrests.

There is still (a) pretty clear evidence that police violence happened before an arrest or detention was declared,
and (b) persuasive argument that the practice of denying speaking time on any one item to one person (under the excuse that you've given them time to speak on other items) is a violation of the Brown Act provision that requires public comment time on each and every item.
(c) there is also some documentation that the "5 minute" rule itself was designed to limit my speech in particular.

All of this adds up to a further pattern and practice of harassing disfavored activists at City Council.

It has a long history here, particularly against me.

For background on City Council harassment of critics and Brown Act violations, see, "Y SWAMI Y GIVEN SPECIAL MAYORAL ESCORT" (January 2005)
"Asking Mayor Rotkin to Follow the State Open Meetings Law" (March 2005)
"Norse Demands Kennedy Retract Libelous Statement" (March 2004)
 

Brown Act Demand Letter To Mayor Rotkin

309 Cedar PMB #14B
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

June 23, 2005


Mayor Mike Rotkin
809 Center St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060


Dear Mayor Rotkin

I formally request that you correct the Brown Act violations that occurred at the June 14, 2005 City Council meeting during the Afternoon Session.

Specially, on item ##13.1 “Agreement with IATSE for Services at the Civic Auditorium?
I was denied any public comment whatsoever in violation of Sections 54954.3(a) and 54954(c) of the Ralph M. Brown Act in the Government Code.

Section 5.4954.3(a) provides “Every agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before ordering the legislative body's consideration of the item…?

Not only was I interrupted and forbidden to speak, but I was ordered to leave the meeting. When I insisted on my right to remain (as provided for by Section 54953 (a)), you ordered the meeting recessed, ordered the television camera turned away from the podium, shut down any audio recording, & directed police to remove me.

Section 54953(a) provides "All meetings of the legislative body of a local agency shall be open & public, & all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the legislative body of a local agency..."

I was approached then by Lt. Steve Clark and other police officials who directed me to leave or face arrest. Lt. Clark would not inform me whether I was under arrest in spite of my repeated audible requests that I be told whether I was under arrest and told the charges. He then twisted my left hand behind my back, inflicting a “pain compliance? procedure on me (which he continued to use after I had left the meeting) which resulted in pain, suffering, extreme public humiliation, and subsequent loss of feeling in parts of my left hand which continues to this day.

I was later informed that you had charged me with “disrupting a public meeting.? I was subsequently transported to a holding cell in the jail, held for over an hour in tight handcuffs, and banned from returning to the meeting or the area surrounding the meeting, even though I needed to interview witnesses to the event outside the chambers.

Lt. Clark forcibly seized my tape recording of the incident as “evidence? then later informed me laughingly that “the whole tape was blank.? In threatening comments witnessed by several other officers, Lt. Clark also added to the process of discouraging me from coming to future City Council meetings by repeatedly noting that if he ever had to remove me from City Council again, he would “not be so gentle?. I believe these also constitute Brown Act violations (as well as more serious offenses).

Your pretext for refusing me the right to speak for two minutes on item 13.1 was a new rule adopted by City Council several months before, explicitly designed to shorten time for the public (while Council members retain unlimited speaking time). Among knowledgeable Council observers, it was known to be a regulation used to limit specific critics for our brief comments on a few Consent Agenda items during afternoon Council sessions.

The regulation states “Unless they are principally involved with the item under discussion, any member(s) of the public who pull(s) more than one Consent item, or wish to comment on more than one pulled Consent item will be limited to a TOTAL of 5 minutes, in one single comment period, for comment on ALL of the items on which they wish to comment. that no member of the public shall be able to speak for more than five minutes.?

First, you made no attempt to determine if I was “principally involved? with the item, but moved summarily to the use of what turned out to be excessive and violent force to repress my right to speak.

Second, you allowed a prior speaker to violate this five minute rule (specifically a Seaside Company employee on an earlier Consent agenda item) indicating the rule was a “flexible? one that could be used to favor those you wanted to hear from and silence those you did not.

The rule itself is clearly abusive of the Brown Act and unconstitutional. The rule was designed to penalize particular critics (while giving Councilmembers discretion to allow their favorites much longer speaking times).

At a prior City Council meeting, you required me to “bundle? my entire five-minute allowance on three items into one period, which denied me the benefit of hearing any other speakers on those topics, or the Council debate on any of those topics, before I made my comments. It also put Council members and the public in a position of having to take in information on three separate subjects in one speech.

To your credit, you abandoned this approach on June 14, allowing me to speak with the rest of the public on each item. However, your rule is still fundamentally defective. It puts an unreasonable burden on disfavored members of the public (i.e. Those to whom you do not grant extended time) to determine beforehand any and all items on which they will want to speak and time their comments accordingly.

\While this might seem reasonable at first glance, it ignores the fact that Council and public comment on other Consent agenda items may reasonably prompt members of the public to want to rise to the podium to speak briefly on those issues—as is their right, even though they couldn't have anticipated doing so before hearing the new public and Council testimony. The Brown Act requires you to allow such public testimony, not to selective ban people because they have “talked too long? on earlier items. The new items are separate in and of themselves and every member of the public has the right to a brief comment period. Your regulation blocks this input.

To reply to the speaker as you did to me, “you have used up your five minutes? suggests that there are items on which particular members of the public can be entirely excluded from any and all public comment. This violates the Brown Act requirement that public comment be allowed on every single agenda item (or, as you have restricted it, at least on those items where Council is taking action).

Your five-minute rule violates both state law and the Constitution. It also sets up a kind either a “protest pen? or a “watch list?. The “protest pen? is created if disfavored speakers can be required to rattle off their testimony in a separate five-minute time ghetto (as you initially proposed I do on June 14 ). The “watch list? is what you required the City Clerk do on June 14—keep individual “time records? on each person who chooses to speak on more than one Consent Agenda item. This also obviously discourages public comment—which is the intent of the law, as revealed by the Council discussion on March 22nd when the law was passed.

At the June 14th meeting where you had me arrested, I had pulled two items from the Council agenda on which I spoke briefly. I made a thirty second comment on a third item. I then spoke for a minute and a half on an unexpected housing issue which Councilmember Reilly pulled (the time Council and staff spent taking much more time).

Item 13.1 was a controversial one which far and away elicited the most public comment of any Consent agenda item. New information was provided to the Council which required it to delay the item so they could reacquaint themselves with the issue. Instead of taking these facts into account, you continued a past discriminatory pattern of shutting down my public commentary, even though it was lawful, brief, and pertinent.

You made sure the public did not see the “iron fist? behind the velvet glove by directing television cameras to turn away from the violent arrest. You allowed the violence to continue without taking action to stop it.

Worse than anything that happened to me was the message being sent out to the public that attempting to speak at a City Council meeting as guaranteed by the Brown Act can result not merely in public humiliation and violation of rights, but physical injury.

This pattern of preferential discrimination violates Section 54954(c) which provides “The legislative body of a local agency shall not prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs, or services of the agency, or of the acts or omissions of the legislative body…?

You and prior Mayors have consistently refused to correct Brown Act violations. You face a federal lawsuit for an unlawful arrest made in 2002 for an innocent and silent act of non-disruptive peaceful protest (a mock Nazi salute). I continue to hope that the Council will make some attempt to repair the damage done to my rights and the rights of others by modifying those discriminatory rules and practices which violate the Brown Act and unnecessarily muzzle the public. You have the opportunity to do so here.

I request that this Brown Act violation be cured or corrected within 30 days by rehearing Item 13.1 with adequate notice and adequate time for public input at a time certain. I request only two minutes to speak on the item, as was given every other speaker.

If you refuse to correct the Brown Act violations mentioned above, please clarify in writing your rationale for selectively denying me the opportunity to speak on the item.

Sincerely,
Robert Norse (423-4833)


Cc: Santa Cruz Indymedia, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Santa Cruz Metro, Grand Jury, D.A. Bob Lee, San Jose Mercury News, Terry Franke, First Amendment Foundation, Good Times, Mid-County Post, City on a Hill Press, Kate Wells, David Beauvais
 

Re: Assaulted and Arrested at City Council Tuesday Afternoon for Trying to Make a Two Minute Pro-Union Speech

Robert, sorry to hear about your civil rights being violated, plus what appears to be a permanent injury. Lt. Clark was not only abusive in this situation, but he threatened to ruin your livelihood as well. That really stinks.
 

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