Friday Feb 1st, 2013 10:11 PM
Today I was found “guilty” of sitting on the sidewalk and ordered to pay $300.
The only problem is that I didn’t sit down….
The only problem is that I didn’t sit down until SCPD officer Travis Ahlers ordered me to sit down on the sidewalk.
I had been walking south on Pacific Ave. near the intersection of Laurel St. when I saw officer Ahlers talking to a man who was sitting on the ground. He said, “may I search your backpack?” At which point, from a distance of 10’ away I told the man that he didn’t have to allow the officer to search his belongings. “Tell him NO,” I said. Officer Ahlers turned towards me and told me to sit down and produce my ID. I asked him what the charge was and he said, “For sitting on the ground.”
“I wasn’t sitting down until you told me to sit,” I retorted. He said, “that’ll be for a judge to decide.” Later I found out that the man who was sitting down was under formal probation and was able to be legally searched even without being told before-hand. I didn’t know this when I was reminding him of his 4th Amendment right to the privacy of his person and all of his stuff. Had I known this, I would have said nothing to him.
Well today was my day in court. Since this is an infraction and wouldn’t be heard in a regular court I had commissioner Kim Baskett disqualified so that the case would be heard in a regular court and the officer would have to be sworn in. Finally, on my 5th visit to the courthouse since September on this matter the case was seen by judge Timothy Volkman. I was charged with:
9.50.012 SITTING DOWN ON SIDEWALKS IN DESIGNATED CITY ZONES.
No person shall sit upon the following enumerated portions of a public sidewalk: (b) Within fourteen feet of any building.
The officer said that the ordinance included “squatting” and then offered to tell the judge what the dictionary definition of “squatting” was. The judge declined hearing the definition. I read the ordinance aloud to high-light that it clearly reads “No person shall sit..” The officer said that my buttocks were within 8” of my heels.
With this, the judge found me guilty of sitting on the sidewalk and ordered that I pay $300. The judge said, “this will teach you to leave the police alone while they’re conducting their business.” I said that I’m not being charged with Obstructing an officer, but instead, Sitting on the ground which I obviously didn’t do. The judge said, “I’m siding with the ‘people’ that your are guilty.”
I said that I don’t have the money… I don’t have $10 and I can’t pay. Then I said “I won’t pay. This is not justice. This is a bad cop and you’re a bad judge.” I refused a payment plan or a work program.
I then left the court when the bailiff who was escorting me out said, “If you don’t pay it’ll be twice as much.”
It is true that at the end of this frustrating hearing that I lashed out in classic Brent Adams style. I really couldn’t believe my ears when I was found guilty. Yes, it is just an infraction and yes, its just $300 but isn’t it the principle of the thing? I had not been sitting and yet I was found guilty of sitting down. It is true that I don’t have the money to pay. I will check with the clerks office and try and get on a payment plan or a work program.
I am truly frustrated.
Friday Feb 1st, 2013 11:06 PM
You, sir, are a fighter.
Saturday Feb 2nd, 2013 2:20 AM
The public needs to be educated to start recall campaigns against these rogue judges who mete out injustice with impunity. Alternatively, if you can obtain a copy of the transcript for your trial as evidence of misconduct by the judge, you could send it to the news media and the Judicial Council of California to file a misconduct complaint (against this judge). If enough people mistreated by this judge do the same, eventually this judge may feel some heat.
Saturday Feb 2nd, 2013 12:07 PM
Brent got screwed because he challenged the authority of the cop by watching and commenting. He was obviously not really obstructing or interfering (or he would have been charged with that misdemeanor crime). Nor was he sitting. Leaning and squatting–according to the 2002 debates on the Sitting Ban (which specifically considered that question) rejected “leaning”, much as fashion-conscious merchants wanted to include it.
The Sitting Ban has nothing to do with obstructing the sidewalk, obstructing officers, or public safety. It has to do with obstructing poor and counterculture folks (or anyone the merchants find unsightly) and giving maximum discretion to the police so they can move people along. That’s why Measure S was recently defeated in Berkeley. The Berkeley service providers, three members of the Berkeley City Council and the local ACLU mobilized against it.
Of course, we haven’t heard a peep from Ken Cole (head of the Housing Authority), nor Monica Martinez (Executive Director of the Homeless Lack of Services Center), nor the local ACLU, nor–of course–any City Council members. Our City Council unanimously voted to increase the penalties and scope of the Ban in 2009.
Copwatching is legal and important. I spoke with two observers who witnessed the entire “trial”. Judge Volkman reported reprimanded Adams for his copwatching activity, suggesting it was a “lesson” for him. If “shut up, close your eyes, and keep moving” is the lesson, I suggest we fire the teacher.
BANNING CUSTOMARY AND PRESUMABLY FIRST AMENDMENT-PROTECTED ACTIVITY
The current Sitting Ban (so-called since it bans sitting in 90% of the sidewalk in business, downtown, and beach districts) is a nasty ordinance which has never had a real constitutional challenge (as Berkeley’s did).
9.50.012 Sitting Down on Sidewalks in Designated City Zones: In the C-C community commercial, C-N neighborhood commercial, C-B commercial beach, CBD central business district, and R-T tourist residential zoning districts, no person shall sit upon the following enumerated portions of a public sidewalk: (a) At any bus stop; (b) Within fourteen feet of any building. Where any portion of a building is recessed from the public sidewalk, the fourteen feet shall be measured from the point at which the building abuts the sidewalk; (c) Within fifty feet of any ATM machine or cash disbursal machine, or any other outdoor machine or device which disburses or accepts coins or paper currency except parking meters and newspaper vending machines; (d) Within fourteen feet of any fence that abuts a public sidewalk; (e) Within fourteen feet of any drinking fountain, public telephone, public bench, public trash compactor, information or directory/map sign, sculpture or artwork displayed on public property, or vending cart; (f) Within fourteen feet of any street corner or intersection; (g) Within fourteen feet of any open air dining area or cafe extension; or (h) Within fourteen feet of any kiosk.
Since most sidewalks are 10′ wide in all other places than Pacific Ave, this simply bans sitting where there are buildings–period. It’s designed to “clear away the riffraff” and give us the Shopping Mall look. The latest 2009 twist was to include “sculptures” and “directory signs” as creators of 14′ forbidden zones. As well as increasing penalties on “unattended” tickets to create both (a) a new misdemeanor crime (MC 4.04.015) and (b) the right to charge every subsequent infraction crime, no matter how petty or irrelevant as a misdemeanor ((MC 4.04.010(4)).
TICKETS WITHOUT WARNING
Other ordinances that involve the creation of “forbidden” zones have warning provisions. Benches, for instance, have a ridiculous 1-hour restriction.
On those benches that still remain that is–three have recently been removed on Cooper St., perhaps at the behest of the noxious Nextspace, a Coonerty-founded business.
For instance 9.50.12, Sitting down on Public Benches in Designated Zones, which forbids you to “sit down upon or otherwise occupy a public bench or use a public bench to store property for more than a total of one hour during any given twelve-hour period” has a second provision that “No person shall be cited under this section unless he or she has first been notified by a police officer, public officer or downtown host that he or she is in violation of the prohibition in this section, and thereafter continues the violation.”
Not so with the Sitting Ban.
MORE ON THE LAWLESS LAWS AND ABUSIVE COPS
For more fun fuck-you-over ordinances, check out “Deadly Downtown Ordinances–Update” at http://www.indybay.org/
For another account of the fun-loving Officer Ahlers, see “Selective Enforcement and Harassment by Santa Cruz Police on Pacific Avenue” at http://www.indybay.org/
RESTORING THE CONSTITUTION
Since we have a hopeless City Council, responding to the agenda of Take Back Santa Cruz, the SCPD, the SC Neighbors, and the DTA, I’ve fond the best response is to do what Brent tried to do: point out the abusive behavior of the police, hosts, and private security thugs.
When you do this, I suggest you address passersby, keep at least 10′ away from the incident. Take a step back if asked. Document what you’re doing with a phonevid or some other device, and try to have a second witness with you. Often cops will stop and park their running squad cars in the middle of the street to deal with the “emergency” of a “criminal sitter”.
Alerting the public walking by to this has often, I’ve found, shortened the police action and encouraged them to move on to more sensible priorities.
It’s also quite appropriate to fine a formal Internal Affairs Complaint with the Professional Standards Unit of the SCPD or contact the City’s so-called “Independent” Police Auditor with your concerns. You don’t have to be the target of the abuse. You just have to witness what you felt was wasteful, abusive, or uncalled-for police behavior.
FILING A COMPLAINT
An on-line form to fill out when you witness or experience abusive behavior of any kind from the SCPD can be found at http://www.cityofsantacruz.
Robert H. Aaronson is the auditor. He wanders in occasionally from his roost in Palo Alto to collect 20Gs a year or more, never bothering to issue a written report that I’ve heard about. Still it makes a record–and that can count later for others who want to make Pitchess Motions in court challenging an officer’s credibility or violent behavior in a future case. Aaronson’s e-mail is not given, but is on the City website as a form at http://www.cityofsantacruz.
Again–the purpose of these is not to expect any kind of justice or accountability. Rather to simply make a record. If you do complain to either Aaronson or the SCPD, please post a copy on line as well.
OTHER COMMENTS CAN BE FOUND AT http://www.indybay.org/