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Federal Lawsuit Against Police-Merchant False Arrest

A federal lawsuit naming Sgt. Loran Baker, Lt. Patty Sapone, the City of Santa Cruz, and Sushi Now owner "Matisse" Mathew Selman has been filed (and was discussed in closed session at City Council last Tuesday).
The suit concerns Baker's custodial arrest of Robert Norse on January 30, 2002 and the dismantling of a political table near Sushi Now! when Norse and others were calling for the boycott of Sushi Now!, Ali Baba's Cafe (now Cafe Campesino), and New Leaf Market to protest their support for the "forbidden fence" put up there by Redevelopment.
SCPD-Merchant Collusion Goes to Federal Court
Sgt. Baker, Chief Belcher, Sushi Now’s Matisse Selman Sued
Expanded Version of a Story for the March 2003 edition of Street Spirit by Thomas Leavitt

It’s hard getting attorneys for homeless activists in Santa Cruz. But Rhonda and Jim Fossbinder of Hawaii
heard about Street Spirit writer Robert Norse’s arrest and volunteered to take his case to federal court. "If one person stands up to false arrests, oppressive surveillance, and intimidating police presence, it may embolden others," said Norse; "Courage can be as contagious as dread."
On January 30, 2002, Sgt. Loran “Butchie” Baker put Norse in handcuffs for “blocking the sidewalk,” and
shut down Norse’s table where he was circulating a petition urging the boycott of three business downtown--Sushi
Now!, Ali Baba’s Cafe [now Cafe Campesino] and New Leaf Market.
After days of surveillance, the lawsuit contends, Baker colluded with Matthew “Matisse” Selman, the owner of Sushi Now! to stop Norse’s campaign to expose and reverse a proposed fencing off of public space to provide a new sitting area for the three businesses. The fenced-off area is available during the day only to customers and friends of the businesses. Others sitting in the previously public area have been “moved along” with threats of trespass arrests.
The City’s concern was to drive away a daily gathering of young people--goths, skateboarders, hippies, and homeless people who hung out and sat on the edge of an adjacent large planter. The planter itself was one of four left on the mall where it was legal to sit.
New no-sitting laws (to “move along” homeless people) make sitting on 95% of the sidewalk or on other low-lying planters a $162 crime. SCPD has used an old “conduct on public property” law to “move along” police and merchant-selected “undesireables” from the edges of the many low-lying planters that surround trees up and down the mall.
Within a month after Norse's arrest the City’s Redevelopment Agency [RDA] constructed & paid for a green
wrought iron fence. This privatized the 80’ X 20’ area of open sidewalk between the businesses. It gave the three
businesses an exclusive “customers only” sitting area, walled off 2/3 of the previously public sidewalk and planter seating area, and fenced out the “undesireables” who had previously gathered there.
Earlier, in a quick little-noticed vote in early January 2002, City Council voted to lease out (privatize) the public sidewalk as part of their downtown gentrification program, anticipating the opening of the nearby Del Mar Theater. The Redevelopment Agency [RDA] had tried massive surveillance, videotaping the youngsters, assigning police to stand nearby for hours, tickets and ID checks for minor infractions, and finally “classical music”
warfare--bombarding those sitting nearby with loud classical music.
On January 27th Norse made what he said was the first and only citizen’s arrest of his life against RDA worker, “Host” Terry Butler, for “unreasonable noise” to stop the taxpayer-funded musical assault. Police dismissed the citation the same day, but did not forgive Norse for his counterattack. In a subsequent police report, Sgt. Baker made much of Norse’s citizen’s arrest of Butler.
Three days later, Sgt. Baker assisted in and then escalated Selman’s suppression of Norse’s basic civil rights, by turning an infraction citation that was already done without probable cause into a custodial arrest. Baker ignored the fact that Norse's table took up less than than 20% of the broad sidewalk. He also ignored a second city code that exempted political tablers from the "obstructing the sidewalk" law.
Six months later, police-friendly Commisioner Irwin
Joseph still wouldn’t dismiss the charge--even after attorney Kris Frederickson pointed out the clear exception for political tablers that made even charging Norse improper.
Over the course of six months--without apology, Baker initiated three custodial arrests of Norse--all on
infraction citations not punishable by jail and all never even reached the court arraignment stage. Yet on all three
occasions Baker took Norse away in handcuffs, either to the police station or to jail.
Baker's other two targeted arrests of Norse were for “trespass” (for circulating a petition in the Farmer’s Market, which was trying to exclude hippies, musicians, and political activists) and for “disrupting a public assembly” (for a brief silent mock fascist salute to the Santa Cruz Mayor when the Mayor cut off a speaker at City Council). In two of the cases, Baker said he was stopping Norse from "drawing a crowd" by drawing attention to the questionable circumstances of the arrest.
In the third (the mock fascist salute), Baker claimed Norse had to be taken to jail or else he would "repeat the offense", even though Norse said he would not. Baker declined to accept a counterarrest from Norse and issue a "citizen's arrest" citation on the Mayor for "making a false police report". Even though such fair-handed treatment was then required under the state criminal code PC 142a, Baker ignored his obligation to issue a "citizen arrest" citation when required to do so by another citizen even if Baker disagreed with the citation.
In the Sushi Now! arrest (done as a citizen's arrest by “Matisse” Mathew Selman, which Baker not only readily accepted but apparently orchestrated), it was not only the arrest that was unusual. Writing up the case, Baker concocted the longest infraction police report Norse said he’d ever seen --6 pages of “profile” & 10 pages of narrative.
In August, to bolster the faltering case under challenge from attorney Frederickson, the City Attorney’s office added its own new additional charge. Norse, they said, had also violated a Downtown Ordinance that set up forbidden zones for activists and musicians by tabling near the planter. Witnesses and photos of the table confirmed that Norse was notin one of those zones (within 6’ of a building, bench, telephone, drinking fountain, or kiosk).
More important, before he cited Norse, Baker himself would have been required to verbally warn Norse according to the wording of that municipal code. Not only did Baker fail to warn, but he actually told Norse later--on audio tape--that it was legal for him to be in that location and acknowledged that he hadn’t warned him. There was no case from the start, yet Baker, Selman, the City Attorney’s office, and the SCPD dragged it on for months.
By September 27, 2002 the thousands of dollars in legal fees spent by the City Attorney and Police Department
had forced Norse to hire an attorney and to make more than half a dozen appearances in the County Courthouse. On the
day of trial, however, neither Baker, Baker's superior Lt. Patty Sapone, Police Chief Steve Belcher, assistant city
attorney George Kovacevitch, nor the supposed original complainant Matthew “Matisse” Selman appeared in court on
the final trial date. Commisioner Joseph held Norse for another hour in the courtroom, "Why do you suppose they're
not here?" asked Joseph of Norse. "They have no case, Your Honor," replied Norse. Joseph was forced to dismiss all
charges against Norse for lack of evidence--something that should have happened six months before, the day the case
came into court.
"Baker's high-profile arrest and the City’s subsequent prosecution," said Norse, "was meant to chill peaceful and lawful protest" against the City’s crescendoing homeless-hostile policies. It also constituted a dangerous and improper collusion of police with merchants to deprive others of constitutional rights. "The legalized violence against me was intimidating and damaging, but perhaps even worse was the chilling effect on the activist and homeless community. Some activists were now afraid to table at all. Zoe Einbinder, who was arrested with me, would not return
to register voters."
Norse’s federal lawsuit names Baker, Sapone, Belcher, Selman, and the City of Santa Cruz. It alleges violations of the first and fourteenth amendments, asks for injunctive relief, claims failure to train & supervise the police, & demands a jury trial in federal court. Activists Steve Argue and David Silva have both won financial settlements against the City--Argue for false arrest by Officer Garner for selling street newspapers--ironically only ten feet from where Norse was arrested. David Silva--for assault by former SCPD Sgt. Andy Crain during a City Council meeting when the police under direction from Mayor Rotkin physically attacked a group of noisy but peaceful protesters.
In January 2003, Norse again set up his HUFF table again near Sushi Now. Selman again attempted to have
police remove him, but this time (with Baker not on duty) they chose not to do so.
On February 13, 2003 the new expanded “Forbidden Zones for Activists” law went into force, shrinking the
legal area allowed for a table with political literaturesuch as Norse's to less than four square feet in what had previously been a traditional tabling and musical performing area. A second provision of the new law also requires tablers to “move along” every hour to another spot at least 100’ away and not to return for 24 hours.
A week ago activist Oliva Brownrabbit was told by police to move her table organizing for a Vigil Against
Two Wars (the War on the Poor and the War in Iraq) from its legal place in front of Sushi Now! on complaint from
Selman and his employees, soon after she had set up there. Police have already issued five $162 citations at the Vigil
table at Cooper and Pacific for chalking peace statements on the sidewalk and regularly threaten protesters there.

Updates on Norse case can be found at www.santacruz.indymedia.org or at www.huffsantacruz.org .

The next court date will be in late May in San Jose Federal Court. A shorter version of this story can be found in the March issue of Street Spirit, on sale from a homeless vendor near you.
 
 


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