POLICE JAIL HOMELESS ACTIVIST FOR "VANDALISM" CHALKING
IN NEW ESCALATION OF WAR ON POOR DOWNTOWN;
ERASIBLE CHALK USER FINDS JAIL CONDITIONS GRIM AND ABUSIVE
August 21, 2002
From the Santa Cruz Sentinel 8-20-02 excerpt from article "Downtown Violence a problem of culture" by Jason Shultz.
"Police on Monday said they are still investigating a massive gang brawl that occurred Friday night on Pacific Avenue. Police have made no arrests in the melee, which started at 11:30 p.m. on the sidewalk across from Cinema 9. As many as seven fights erupted in the area during the next few hours."
Santa Cruz, Ca. -- "Police have made no arrests..." despite an outbreak of violence which included at least one young man being taken to the hospital. Monday, the SCPD did make an arrest. Becky Johnson was arrested for misdemeanor vandalism for chalking in the 12" gutter bordering the curb at Pacific Ave. and Cooper St. She had previously been cited and released for "defacing the sidewalk" an infraction for which she and fellow co-defendant, Tim Rinker, have both plead "not guilty" and are scheduled for trial on September 13th.
MC 9.20.010, if interpreted the way the SCPD has been lately, would make hopscotch illegal throughout Santa Cruz, children's drawings, the chalk festival on First Night, and construction workers chalk markings commonly used when measuring a site. This ordinance has been on the books unchanged since 1964, but has only recently been interpreted to apply to chalk writing, only on Pacific Ave. and only when activists or homeless people do it.
But yesterday, Johnson, whose case is still pending, opted to obey the law (as interpreted by police and the City Attorney in their campaign to shut down protest downtown). She chalked, not on the sidewalk, but instead on the edge of the street. Her message, written neatly in yellow and purple chalk read "Are we so Mean-spirited we deny Homeless people the right to Sleep at night, beg for food with a sign after dark, sit, or to cover with a blanket?"
Her message wrapped around the edge of the plaza area where Food Not Bombs was feeding people, the HUFF table was playing a videotape about police violence in Santa Cruz, and two city council candidates, Steve Argue and Thomas Leavitt were speaking to the assembled crowd in one of the regular Monday rallies against the new "Dumber than Dirt" Downtown ordinances.
"Officer Brad Hilliard drove his bicycle right up to where I was chalking, and said something that I might be guilty of obstructing the roadway," said Becky Johnson. " We discussed it, and I asked if he was giving me friendly advice or whether he thought I was committing a crime. He said it was advice. I began to chalk again. I promised to be careful, and a friend of mine volunteered to lookout for cars and bicycles while I chalked. Hilliard rode off on his bicycle." Johnson continued to chalk another fifteen words of her political message outside the "forbidden for chalking" sidewalk zone until Parks and Rec. parks division employee, Mia Duquet, pulled her truck up, double-parked it and, according to Johnson "Stomped over blaring out in a loud voice, 'You are SO busted!'" Duquet implied that she expected Johnson to "clean it up."
Since Johnson had already spoken with Officer Hilliard about the legality of chalking in the gutter, had received no warning, and since a gardener from Parks and Rec. has no authority to stop a civilian from a legal, first-amendment activity, and since MC 9.20.010 "defacing the sidewalk" only applies to sidewalks, she continued to write, "How can Vice-Mayor Emily Reilly, Tim Fitzmaurice, and Ed...." Duquet charged at Johnson, forcefully stomped her foot precariously near Johnson's hand and hitting Johnson's head with her knee. "She stopped me right between the Ed and the Porter," said Johnson.
"I was going to write 'How can Vice-Mayor Emily Reilly, Tim Fitzmaurice, and Ed Porter Sleep at Night?' until the Parks and Rec. worker forcefully interfered," said Johnson. Several police officers arrived including Officer Brandt and Sgt. Lunnen. For several minutes they stood around and talked with Duquet about the situation. Then, shortly before 6PM, Officer Hilliard arrested Becky Johnson for 594 (a) P.C. misdemeanor vandalism on citizen complaint from Ms. Duquet.
"Since it was apparently Ms. Duquet who demanded the arrest, police had to cite Johnson," noted nearby witness Robert Norse who audiotaped some of the controversy. "But they did not have to arrest, handcuff, and jail her. It also seems police helped Duquet cook up the charge, possibly to shield her from a potential civil suit and to back up the "tough on activists" posture." Norse reported that police ignored others who chalked on the sidewalk, though hours later they ticketed Guitarist Billy Starr for "defacing the sidewalk."
Johnson disputed Sgt. Lunnen's claim that he had to arrest her to stop her from "continuing the offense."
"He never asked me to stop or stated what I was doing was illegal until he handcuffed me," said Johnson. "I had never been arrested for vandalism before. In fact, 15 minutes earlier he had confirmed my belief that as long as I didn't chalk on the sidewalk and I didn't obstruct the street, what I was doing was a legal activity." She said "What happened to me is what the police do to homeless people and street musicians all the time. It is a vicious policy of selective enforcement promoted by the City Council and the new downtown ordinances."
She was handcuffed and transported to the Santa Cruz County Jail where she was booked and held in a tiny "drunk" tank with four other women with an open toilet visible to male guards and even to the occasional male prisoner. "It was filthy. The guards all wore latex gloves if they had any contact with the prisoners. We were "dirty" and because of the unsanitary conditions in which we were kept, every wall, every surface was covered with germs."
Johnson reported that the prisoners, who are mostly homeless people with drug or alcohol dependencies, are piled into the 5 ft. by 6ft. room with one corner of the room chopped off, and the toilet/sink combination taking up the over a fourth of the remaining space. There was no soap; no cups to drink out of, and the floors had not been cleaned in some time. "One woman came in and she had wet her pants, so from that point on, the place reeked of urine as well," said Johnson.
"Many of these people suffer from HIV, hepatitis B and C, Tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. To pile people in a small holding tank like that invites the spread of illness." One woman kept insisting the nurse, who she could see through the glass, get her medication. "I'm an epileptic," she explained. "I need to take 200 mg. of dilantin twice a day or I could have a seizure. I missed my 4PM dose." The nurse nodded cheerfully, disappeared and never came back. Later, a male deputy sheriff opened the door to remove a prisoner. "Excuse me sir, but this woman needs her medication. She has a serious medical condition," Johnson told him. "We know. The nurse will be getting it for her," he promised, but no medication appeared. It was well after eight-o'clock, and the woman was beginning to shake. "I'm so cold," she moaned.
Another guard appeared at the door. This time a woman. "Officer, I have had nursing training. This woman suffers from epilepsy. She needs the anti-convulsant medication Dilantin or she may have a seizure. She is way overdue on her dose." The guard scornfully viewed Johnson and said, "You're just a prisoner in here. You are not her advocate!" Ten minutes later the woman got her medication.
Although Johnson has never been convicted of anything, is not on probation or parole, has never missed a court date, has permanent housing and a job in Santa Cruz, and that the crime she is accused of only involved 2 chalked messages in the gutter of a public street, the SCPD called Judge Barton and got him to impose $1000 bail on what would normally be an OR'able offense.
After a series of phone calls from the holding cell, including an on-air interview on Free Radio Santa Cruz 96.3FM, Johnson was able to post bail. "And they made my supporters wait for an hour and half after they arrived with the cash," said Johnson.
Becky Johnsonrecently wrote a letter to the Citizens Police Review Board and reported a policy of selective enforcement by the SCPD that appears to ignore tourists and middle-class people while citing homeless people for sitting, The CPRB voted to hold a special meeting to investigate the charges.
Becky Johnsonfaces a September 10th court hearing on the misdemeanor vandalism charge. She is planning on pleading "not guilty" and demanding a jury trial. She also faces trial along with Tim Rinker on September 13th for two other infraction citations before Commissioner Irwin Joseph at 1:30PM.
--- article by HUFF staffwriters
Becky Johnson's attorney, Ed Frey, can be reached for comment at (831)479-8911.
Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom(831) 423-HUFF www.huffsantacruz.org