During a Special Session of the Santa Cruz City Council on April 1st, I was arrested for failing to leave when I twice replaced my recorder on the bannister between the public and City Council. I have regularly placed my ancient tape recorder there for more than two decades without incident. The railing is the best spot for an audible recording. Nonetheless Mayor Robinson termed my replacing the recorder there “a disruption” and insisted I leave the meeting or face arrest. I declined to do so, since attending (and recording) public meetings is an essential right (that needs to be exercised in order to be real)–particularly so for an alternate media person like myself. These rights are guaranteed on paper at least under the Brown (Public Meetings) Act. Video-journalist Brent Adams posted a video on you-tube which documents much of the action. I discuss it further below.
Brent Adams kindly made, uploaded, and provided the video of the incident. I wrote the entire article. The views above are mine and do not necessarily represent his.
The audio for the incident can be heard at http://www.radiolibre.org/brb/
FALSE ARREST BY THE MAYOR; POLICE SELECTIVELY REFUSE TO CITE
The Mayor’s action was a false arrest in that my behavior not only didn’t disrupt the meeting but was protected under constitutional rights supposedly guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions. Obviously by any reasonable standard, my recording activity was not disruptive. Having Lynn Robinson say so does not make it so. In fact, filing a report on that basis is a criminal act, since the report is a false one. Both Deputy-Chief Martinez and Sgt. Bush refused to accept my citizen’s arrest of Mayor Robinson for making the false report.
Martinez said it was “her meeting”. However the 9th Circuit Court has ruled (in the earlier mock-Nazi salute case) that such a disruption has to be real. Refusing to follow an unconstitutional restriction (actually created to impact me) is not “disruptive” unless it actually disrupts.
Both Deputy-Chief Martinez and Sgt. Bush, initially saw no disruption in the activity I engaged in until directed to remove the recorder by the Mayor.
BROWN ACT PROTECTS CITIZENS AND MEDIA
A legislative body may not prohibit any person attending an open meeting from video recording, audio recording or broadcasting the proceedings, absent a reasonable finding that such activity would constitute a disruption of the proceedings. (§§ 54953.5, 54953.6; Nevens v. City of Chino (1965) 233 Cal.App.2d 775, 779; see also § 6091.)
Under the Act, the public is guaranteed the right to provide testimony at any regular or special meeting on any subject which will be considered by the legislative body before or during its consideration of the item. (§ 54954.3(a).) In 80 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 247, 248-252 (1997),
ABSURD AND PREVIOUSLY UNENFORCED DECORUM “RULE”
The rule cited by Robinson reads “Hand-held recording devices may not be left unattended at the speaker’s podium or elsewhere in the Council Chambers.”
Under this rule, if taken literally one would have to sit next to one’s recorder at all times wherever it was placed. If one left the room to use the bathroom or to interview someone else it would be a “disruption” to leave the machine “unattended” to record the meeting.
On April 1st, Robinson–under her own rules by excluding me–denied me the opportunity to record the proceedings since leaving the tape recorder anywhere in the room “unattended” would be a “disruption”. I was also denied the chance to speak at the meeting and report on it for my twice-weekly Free Radio Santa Cruz show.
AFterwards I asked Bren Lehr, the City Administrator/Clerk, for copies of any complaints on e-mail or hard copy as well as any discussion between Council members and staff regarding the presence of the offending tape recorder. Lehr reported that there was only one complaint she had heard of and nothing in writing from any members of the public.
The rule seems to have been activated either as part of the Mayor’s confusion of repression with order or perhaps a particular disliking for having me visibly present at City Council meetings. Though video recordings are available days afterward and streaming happens during the meeting, I think it important if not essential that individuals and particularly reporters be able to make their own recordings with their own equipment without harassment. There’s actually a provision of the Brown Act that provides that even during a real disruption where the chambers are cleared, reporters unconnected with the disruption must be allowed to remain. This is the first time in over the 27 years that I have faced this bizarre kind of arrest for “criminal recorder placement”.
I’ve described this incident in more detail at http://www.indybay.org/
I am slated to be arraigned Tuesday morning May 6th sometime after 8:30 AM in Santa Cruz Superior Court. I face a possible maximum penalty of $1000 fine and one year in jail. I’ll be checking on Monday afternoon to see if D.A. Bob Lee intends to back up this blatant denial of basic rights.
I may be in good company because the morning of May 6th is also the date for the bogus arraignment of numerous UCSC students, activists, and union supporters arrested for striking up at UCSC around the same time.