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LOCAL Commentary :: Civil & Human Rights

Arrest and Exclusion at City Council/ Lt. Clark's Darker History

The following is a story published in the July 2005 issue of Street Spirit, a homeless newspaper published by the American Friends Service Committee in San Francisco. Copies of the paper are available in the library, at the Homeless Services Center, and through Becky Johnson at 831-479-9291.
Better Democracy?

A Santa Cruz homeless advocate is brutalized, shackled and humiliated while the public voice is eroded in the name of democracy and Better Speech

Modified story for Street Spirit By Becky Johnson and Robert Norse June 26, 2005

"City Council is not a public forum. Public comment is to provoke thoughtful debate. Having meetings drag on primarily as the result of 3 minute testimonies (delays) when we make our decisions. (This ordinance) will create a more democratic procedure that will lead to better public policy and better speech."
--Santa Cruz Councilmember Ryan Coonerty 3/22/05 commenting on rule changes that limit public comment from 3 minutes per item to 5 minutes total

Santa Cruz, Ca. -- When Robert Norse walked into the Santa Cruz City Council meeting on June 7th, he had meant to talk about the "No Party" ordinance coming up on the city council’s agenda. He never got the chance. He became Santa Cruz’ first arrest under a "rules change" Mike Rotkin had pushed thru last March which limits comments on all consent agenda items to five minutes per speaker instead of 3 min per item.

Mayor Mike Rotkin, who the New York Times recently tagged as a "Marxist-feminist" may seem hip to his UCSC Community Studies students, but back home in the saddle of the mayor’s chair he’s quick to resort to naked armed force.

Twenty minutes before the "Anti-Party" ordinance came up on the City Council agenda, with the hall flooded with top brass SCPD officers there to testify, homeless activist and radio personality,

Robert Norse stood in line to speak on an item he had not initially planned to speak on. It was not an item that he had pulled off the consent agenda, but, testimony by several pro-union members of the public moved him to speak out on the innocuously named item #13.1 "Agreement with IATSE for Services at the Civic Auditorium."

Under Rotkin’s new "five-minute" rule, Norse had used up all allowable time because he spoke for five minutes total on four previous items. Norse approached the microphone and asked "Mr. Mayor I would like to speak for two minutes on this item like everyone else as provided for by the Brown Act."

Sections 54954.3(a) and 54954(c) of the Ralph M. Brown Act are the relevant sections of the Government Code. They provide (1) the right to speak on "ANY item of interest to the public" (emphasis added), (2) the right to criticize government bodies, and (3) the right to attend these meetings.

Norse believed that, Rotkin’s Rule or Not, he was on firm footing to assert his right to comment on the item.

Mayor Rotkin interrupted Norse, forbade him to speak, and ordered him to leave the meeting. When Norse insisted on his right to remain, Rotkin ordered the meeting recessed, ordered the television camera turned away from the podium, shut down any audio recording, & directed police to remove Norse from the chambers.

"I was approached then by Lt. Steve Clark and other police officials who directed me to leave or face arrest," Norse said. Lt. Clark is known as "Because I can, Clark," a name which activists tagged him with when he seized a homeless man’s only blanket at 3:00 AM on a cold night for evidence of sleeping when a photo would have sufficed.

Lt. Clark twisted Norse’s left hand behind his back, inflicting a "pain compliance" procedure. "Though I told him repeatedly that I’d leave willingly once he clarified I was under arrest and told me the charge, he refused to do so, grew more angry and more violent, and forced a scream out of me," said Norse.

The abuse continued even as Norse was complying with exiting the meeting. Then Clark shoved Norse’s injured hand into a too tight handcuff which resulted in neurological damage and loss of feeling in parts of his left hand still evident three weeks later.

Norse has described Clark’s behavior as illegal because he initiated and continued a physical assault using force before announcing Norse was under arrest when he was neither a flight risk nor a danger to the public. "I was later informed that Mayor Rotkin had charged me with "disrupting a public meeting." Norse was not charged with resisting arrest.

Lt. Clark’s "furious" attitude, according to Norse, was verified by the homeless curmudgeon Michael Tomasi, a City Hall perennial.
"I heard Lt. Clark say ‘I will hurt you!’ to Robert Norse while he was in handcuffs," said Tomasi.

While Clark twisted Norse’s arm, despite the complete lack of resistance, he spoke in an angry, threatening manner saying "You're never going to do what you did in city council again. You will follow my orders. You're going to be hurt if you do that again!" Clark was breathing heavily almost panting as he twisted and pushed Norse towards the police car. With his wallet pulling heavily at his swim shorts, Norse pleaded for Clark to let go of his hand "or my pants will fall down." Instead, Clark shoved him forward which dislodged his shorts so they fell down around his ankles leaving him publicly exposed. Then Clark berated Norse for it and ordered him to pull up his shorts.

"My hands are handcuffed behind my back. How am I supposed to do that?" Another officer pulled up his shorts. Then Clark took Norse to sit on a low concrete wall just outside of the City Hall building and as he sat there, Michael Tomasi came nearby. Clark sat down right next to Norse and coldly told him that " You are going to regret you sued me. You took me into court and my lawyer’s going to take your trust fund--I've hired Paul Meltzer--we're going to take every penny you've got. You’ve crossed the line . If you ever don’t leave when I say leave, you are going to get hurt!"

Since Robert Norse carries a tape recording, he kept it on throughout Clark’s initial assault. At the jail, Clark confiscated it "for evidence". Norse signed the slip "under protest."

Later Clark commented jovially to Norse that the tape he had confiscated was blank. Norse faces arraignment on misdemeanor charges on July 20th in Santa Cruz Superior Court. Norse’s federal lawsuit against the City of Santa Cruz over a previous false arrest is scheduled for trial in February of 2006.






SIDEBAR

SCPD Lt. Steve Clark’s Colorful History--The Darker Side
by Becky Johnson compiled June 28 2005 for July 2005 Street Spirit

In 1988, then Officer Steve Clark reportedly kicked a limping homeless man, John Miller, by giving him an ugly kick, advising Miller "I used to be the kicker in high school" and that he’d kick the injured leg if Miller didn’t leave town. –from Street Shit Sheet Aug 20, 1988

Officer Clark reportedly threatened a witness to another violent abuse against a homeless drunk shortly thereafter. Finally in an incident witnessed by half a dozen people in front of the old Bookshop Santa Cruz, Clark pulled his gun on a frightened but defiant skateboarder using these memorable words "Down on your knees and say your prayers!"

In 1995, shortly after the Citizens Police Review Board formed, John Malkin, one of its founding members was ordered to "back off" by Sgt. Steven Clark who informed him he had "a file on him."

In 1996, when Anthony Patango, Pat Ring, and Dan Hopkins, all homeless, were awakened at 3:00AM by Sgt. Steve Clark, he ticketed them for the "crime" of sleeping and of covering themselves with blankets. As Clark seized Patango’s blanket, he begged to keep it. "Please, its my only blanket!" Clark took it anyway. Later when asked why he didn’t just take a picture of the blanket for evidence, Clark quipped "Because I can".

In 1999, When a homeless man, Robert Zesinger , committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree behind the Santa Cruz County Building in the dead of winter, Sgt. Clark told Sentinel reporter, May Wong, that "D" Bob as we knew him (The "D" stands for ‘drifter’ he had once said) had died of an auto-erotic death, and the story was reported in the local paper. Three months later the coroner’s report came out and confirmed that the death was a suicide. Dt. Bert of the SC Coroners office confirmed that there had been no evidence of an auto-erotic-death. A complaint filed with the Citizens Police Review Board exonerated Sgt. Clark.

In 1999, Clark hounded a homeless panhandler and former Street Spirit vendor by brandishing his gun at Anthony Douglas ordering him off of Pacific Ave.

In 2001, Christina Lafoya walked through a so-called park, which borders a neighborhood basketball court in the Beach Flats of Santa Cruz. Clark detained her for "being in a park after hours." Lafoya, who was brought up to know her rights, started asking questions, but instead of getting answers, she says she got abuse. "Sgt. Clark told me to shut up, sit down and put my face on the ground, while another officer got the K-9 unit out the car."

Sgt. Clark has since been promoted to Lieutenant.

Flyer by HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) 309 Cedar PMB 14B S.C. 95060 831-423-4833 7-2-05
More info: www.huffsantacruz.org, www.santacruz.indymedia.org & www.santacruzcopwatch.org

Bathrobespierre’s Broadsides Free Radio Santa Cruz shows archived at www.santacruzcopwatch.org/robert

The Human Rights Organization (HRO) meets Sats 1:30 PM at the Homeless Center Dining Room 115 Coral St.

HUFF meets Wednesdays 8:30 AM at the American Cafe in the basement of the County Building 701 Ocean St.
 
 


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Comments

July Street Spirit Now Out

The new issue of Street Spirit is now available.

I've also submitted an Op-Ed piece on the June 14th arrest and the Brown Act to the Sentinel, which editor Tom Honig said he'd consider for Sunday the 17th.

My arraignment date for "disrupting a public meeting" is still July 20th, with no callback from the D.A.'s office, advising me whether they intend to pursue the prosecution. (Two previous such charges never even made it to arraignment.)

The Human Rights Organization meeting time is incorrect. It meets at 1:45 PM at the Homeless Service Center dining Room at 115 Coral St. (But won't be meeting July 9th).
 

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