ACLU Warns Los Angeles Police Department: Stop Harassing Protesters

August 7, 2000 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES — In a letter sent today to the Los Angeles Police Department, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California is demanding that officials immediately stop harassing Democratic National Convention protesters at their organizing headquarters here.

“The Los Angeles Police Department has once again crossed the line separating legitimate security preparations from harassment that violates the First and Fourth Amendment,” said Dan Tokaji, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. “The mere potential for a disturbance does not justify the suspension of constitutional rights.”

In the letter sent to police officials, the ACLU cites numerous instances of harassment, including surveillance, selective enforcement of traffic laws near the Convergence Center, and police visits without warrants.

The ACLU has requested a satisfactory reply to its letter by Thursday, August 9, after which, Tokaji said, it will seek a court order to end the unconstitutional practices.

“Throughout the process of planning for this convention, the LAPD has pursued an unswerving course of alarmism, division, and fear-mongering,” said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. “Targeting protesters at their organizing center is part of the LAPD’s intimidation and harassment tactics.”

“At each fork in the road during this process, the LAPD has had choices,” Ripston added. “Unfortunately, the department has too often chosen to lay the groundwork for a confrontation rather than build the framework for a peaceful convention,” said Ripston. “They envision another Seattle – and their every action unintentionally contributes to just such a scenario.”

Tokaji agreed. “Harassment, surveillance, and ‘visits’ without any purpose and without a warrant create an environment that is ultimately hostile to free speech,” he said. “These actions are intended to inspire fear and, as far as they succeed in doing that, they also put a chilling effect on speech.”

The ACLU letter was signed by Tokaji and private attorneys Carol Sobel, Robert Myers, and Karl Mannheim, the Midnight Special Law Collective, the Working People’s Law Center, and the National Lawyers Guild, acting on behalf of the Community Arts Network, the D2K Convention Planning Coalition, and the Rise Up/Direct Action Network.

For more information on your right to protest go to:

The ACLU’s letter follows.

August 7, 2000


Bernard C. Parks, Chief of Police
City of Los Angeles
150 North Los Angeles Street, Room 619
Los Angeles, California 90012

Debra L. Gonzales
Deputy City Attorney
200 North Main Street, Suite 1700
Los Angeles, California 90012

Dear Chief Parks and Ms. Gonzales:

We represent the Community Arts Network, the D2K Convention Planning Coalition (“D2K”), and the Direct Action Network (“DAN”).

By lease dated June 27, 2000, the Community Arts Network leased the four-story building located at 1919 W. Seventh Street, Los Angeles, California (“Convergence Center”) for the period from July 8, 2000, to August 25, 2000. Pursuant to such lease, the Community Arts Network is in lawful possession of the Convergence Center. As authorized by its lease, the Community Arts Network has provided D2K and DAN with the right to use the Convergence Center.

From the very beginning of their lawful use of the Convergence Center, our clients have been subjected to a series of unlawful actions by the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department. This letter demands that these actions immediately cease and desist and that we receive written confirmation that you have done so.

During the evening hours of Saturday, July 15, 2000, Los Angeles Police Officers entered the Convergence Center without permission and without a warrant. They demanded to see the lease for the building. They indicated that fire inspectors were on call and wanted to arrange an immediate fire inspection. They made clear that their presence was in connection with the Democratic National Convention, indicating that they wanted to ensure that the event was peaceful. This action was initiated by the Los Angeles Police Department solely because of speech-related activities of the occupants.

This unlawful action by the Los Angeles Police Department is part of a clear pattern of singling out political protestors. Other actions have included:

— On July 15, 2000, at 2nd and Main Streets, Los Angeles police officers surveilled a location where a skill training workshop was being held. An officer acknowledged that he was present because of anticipated protests at the Democratic National Convention.

— On July 22, 2000, Los Angeles police officers again came to the Convergence Center and requested to see the lease.

— On July 30, 2000, Los Angeles police officers selectively enforced traffic laws against activists who were leafleting the neighborhood in the vicinity of the leased premises.

— Los Angeles police officers have requested that adjacent parking lot operators alert the police when the Convergence Center is in use.

— On August 2, 2000, a fire inspector attempted to enter the building. He was told that he needed an inspection warrant to enter the building without permission. He indicated that he did not need an inspection warrant and asked whether the occupants wanted him to call the police. He was again told that he could not enter without an inspection warrant and finally left.

— Following the attempted fire inspection on August 2, 2000, police officers were seen videotaping the Convergence Center.

— Police officers have been recording license plate numbers of cars used by political protestors.

Based on the events to date, we believe that the police and other City officials and employees have crossed the line from lawful surveillance to harassment in violation of the activists’ First and Fourth Amendment rights. The transparency of the City’s actions has been clear from the outset, with the appearance of officers at night, without a warrant, at the Convergence Center on the pretext that officers believed the building was vacant. This facade was soon stripped away when the officers informed the activists that they simply wanted to assure a peaceful Convention, disclosing that they knew exactly who was in the building and for what purpose.

“State action designed to retaliate against and chill expression strikes at the very heart of the First Amendment.” Gibson v. United States of America, 781 F.2d 1334, 1338 (9th Cir. 1986); accord, Sloman v. Tadlock, 21 F.3d 1462, 1469 (9th Cir. 1994). Taken together, it appears that the City is bent on efforts “to inhibit both the group’s operations and the activities of its members.” Mendocino Environmental Center v. Mendocino County, 192 F.3d 1283 (9th Cir. 1999). This interference with protected political activities is a violation of First Amendment rights.

Moreover, the tactics deployed by the City also demonstrate that the City is violating and threatens to continue violating the Fourth Amendment rights of the activists. The repeated attempts to enter the Convergence Center, without warrants, is a clear infringement of the right to be free from unlawful searches. See Benigni v. City of Hemet, 879 F.2d 473 (9th Cir. 1988); Freeman v. City of Santa Ana, 68 F.3d 1180 (9th Cir. 1995). The City may not circumvent the constraints of the Fourth Amendment by substituting other city employees for Los Angeles police offiers. The same Fourth Amendment protections apply to the execution of administrative search warrants. See Alexander v. City and County of San Francisco, 29 F.3d 1355 (9th Cir. 1994).

Absent legitimate exigent circumstances, which do not exist here, no government agent may enter the building without a judicial warrant. Cal. Code Civ. Pro. § 1822.50 et seq. As the Ninth Circuit underscored in Alexander, Supreme Court cases “make it very clear that an administrative search may not be converted into an instrument which serves the very different needs of law enforcement officials. If it could, then all of the protections traditionally afforded against intrusions by the police would evaporate, to be replaced by the much weaker barriers erected between citizens and other government agencies.” Id. at 1361.

In connection with the Washington, D.C. IMF protests and the Philadelphia Republican National Convention protests, police raided facilities similar to the Convergence Center and confiscated banners, protest signs, puppets, and other items intended for use in lawful protest activities. In other words, the police confiscated the means by which political protestors hoped to communicate their messages to the public. Such suppression of First Amendment expression in Los Angeles must not be tolerated.

We request written assurance, to be delivered no later than 4:00 p.m. on August 9, 2000, that:

1. Surveillance of the Convergence Center has been discontinued and that no further surveillance will occur during the occupancy of the center.

2. You have issued directives that no police officer, whether in uniform or undercover, shall enter the Convergence Center.

3. The Los Angeles Police Department will not in any way attempt to interfere with the use of the Convergence Center for the purposes of conducting meetings, holding trainings, or making signs, banners, and puppets.

4. The Los Angeles Police Department will not confiscate any sign, banner, or puppet while it is in the Convergence Center or while it is being used in any lawful protest activity. (We have advised our clients of the requirements of Municipal Code Section 55.07, which you may enforce during any demonstration.)

Unless such assurance is received, this letter serves as notice that on August 10, 2000, we will seek a temporary restraining order to enjoin the above-described conduct in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, located at 312 North Spring Street, Los Angeles, California 90012.

Sincerely yours,

Daniel P. Tokaji
ACLU Foundation of Southern California

Carol A. Sobel
Law Office of Carol A. Sobel

Robert M. Myers

Cynthia Anderson-Barker
Working People’s Law Center

National Lawyers Guild, Los Angeles Chapter

Kataya Komisaruk
Midnight Special Law Collective

Professor Karl Manheim
Loyola Law School

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