Cops Assault, Arrest Street Spirit Vendor in Santa Cruz (POST fwd)

Tom Boland (
Fri, 27 Nov 1998 23:40:56 -0400

FWD  To:
         From: (Becky Johnson)


Story for the December Street Spirit by Robert Norse

        In late September (see Street Spirit 11/98: "First Amendment Rights
of Street Spirit Vendors Upheld") Street Spirit vendor Anthony Douglas
retrieved his papers and his dignity.  He also got an official apology from
Santa Cruz Police Chief Steve Belcher. Officer Mark Eveleth, a cop with a
bad reputation for harassing the homeless downtown, ticketed the man  in
front of a movie theater of "selling newspapers without a license" and
confiscated 8 newspapers.

        The most important assurance Douglas got was Belcher's promise in a
September 24th letter, "Section 5.42.020 shall not apply to the display of
newspapers, periodicals, or other literature,when the person so displaying
such newspapers, periodicals or other literature holds them in his or her
personal possession for public view."    Both the municipal code exception
and the First Amendment to the US Constitution forbid the making of any law
"abridging the freedom of the press."  Both were fairly clear even without
Chief Belcher's stamp of approval.  But Douglas & vendor supervisor John
Maurer that with Belcher on record, the matter was resolved.

        Within two weeks, vendor Frank Ross had alarming news for HUFF
(Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) activist Robert Norse.  Ross
reported that a Parks and Recreation Department "ranger" had approached him
as he stood on a street corner a block from the freeway and ticketed
him--again for selling Street Spirit.    A call to Jim Lang, long-time P &
R boss, prompted a flurry of assurances that Ranger XXX had been corrected
and the citation quashed.  Within a week Ross reported a second citation,
this one from a female CHP officer--again under MC 5.42.  Suffering a sharp
barrage of criticism from the cop, Ross felt sufficiently intimidated that
he didn't try to pull out his letter from Chief Belcher--fearing his
efforts would not be appreciated.  The CHP ticket is still pending.

        On November 13th, the SCPD violently reentered the spotlight.
Officer Garner, a new beat cop downtown,  confronted homeless activist
Steve Argue in front of New Leaf Market in a plaza area, near "Hippie
Planter."  Hippie Planter at Pacific and Lincoln is one of the few
gathering spaces left on the rapidly gentrifying Pacific Avenue and one of
the few planter edges where it is still legal to sit under the Santa Cruz
Sitting Ban.  The entire length of Pacific Avenue was stripped of trees and
beautiful brick planters under a police department plan, replacing the
wandering garden mall with a a ramrod straight "Shoppers-R-Us" avenue soon
after the 1989 earthquake.

        Argue ran into Garner some days earlier when, Argue remembers,  the
officer was brutalizing a drunk  by jerking his handcuffs painfully upward
to "hurry along" the prisoner.  Argue intervened verbally, drawing public
attention to what he regarded as a form of torture.
On November 13th, Argue says, Garner recognized him from before and told
him he needed a license to sell Street Spirit.   Argue told Garner he
didn't and continued to hawk the paper--which ironically carried an article
detailing Police Chief Belcher's apology.

        By Argue's account and that of several witnesses, Garner then told
Argue he would give him a ticket, Argue replied he wouldn't sign it, and
Garner called for "back-up."  Garner and an eager Officer Malate piled on
Argue, forcibly cuffed him in an assault that cut his head and scraped his
knee before he was taken away.

        When activist Robert Norse arrived an hour later to interview
witnesses, he found Officer Garner in the nearby "Hosts" center.  The
"Hosts" are a private security force hired by the merchants as the "eyes
and ears" of the police.    Garner acknowledged he had arrested Argue for
selling a newspaper without a license, pointing to an abbreviated city code
in his "cheat book."  Norse told him of Belcher's letter of apology and
tried to file a complaint.  Garner refused to accept the complaint.  Norse
then picked up a pile of Street Spirits and began selling them on the
street in clear view of the officer.  "Give me ticket," demanded Norse,
"I'm doing exactly what you tackled and arrested another man for an hour
ago."     Garner stayed for some time watching, but ultimately refused,
saying "it would only add fuel to the fire."

        Meanwhile Argue's problems at jail were escalating.   The "selling
without a license" charge disappeared and was replaced by a misdemeanor PC
148 (obstructing an officer) and a felony PC 69
(resisting/assault/threats).  Before booking him, jail authorities held
Argue on $5000 bail in a cold holding cell in isolation for eleven hours
with no shoes and a thin shirt.  He was refused the standard free phone
call.  He was refused medical attention.

        The next morning when he finally housed with the general population
and given breakfast, they refused to give him a spoon.   When he asked a
guard, he was told "you're in jail now--you can't always get everything you
want."   In response, many prisoners turned in  requisition forms to the
commisary to get Steve a spoon.

        Steve's angry objections in the spoon incident prompted an assault
from the deputies.   He was thrown to the ground and  put in solitary.
With chains on his hands and feet, he was held there for six hours and
denied access to a toilet or a phone.   Even after being released from
isolation, Argue was held in "lock down" for three more days  locked in a
cell for 23 out of 24 hours per day.

        Argue spent  four days in jail and then was suddenly released
without charges or court date.  When he asked the releasing deputies what
was going on, the jailer suggested that maybe they finally realized that
selling newspapers wasn't illegal.   The 20 papers Officer Garner had taken
from him were never returned.    Meanwhile activists and friends flooded
the jail, the mayor's office, and city council with phone calls.   No city
official made bail for Argue, got a judge to issue a writ of habeas corpus,
or initiated any action to investigate this continuing pattern of police
attack on  homeless paper sellers.  Out-going Mayor Celia Scott  was
apologetic and felt the issue had been "clarified."  Why at-risk paper
distributors should feel any safer in November than in September  needed
further clarification--but none was forthcoming.

        The Monday he was released Argue returned to the spot where he'd
been arrested the previous Friday and began selling Street Spirit  again.
Attorney Kate Wells, formerly attorney for Dan Hopkins of the 1996 City
Hall Sleepers Protest vigil, agreed to take his civil case and sue for
damages.    The timing of Steve's arrest was particularly interesting.
Garner assaulted and arrested Argue the same day he was pictured in a large
photo in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.  The photo showed him standing with two
newly-elected City Council members at the Town Clock in front of the
"Stolen Lives" display (where relatives of those killed by police speak
out).  Argue was one of the chief organizers of this rally against police
violence and the cover-up of the "Happy John" Dine killing (Street Spirit
12/97, 1/98)

        The Sentinel  had nothing to say about this assault-without-apology
on a sister paper.  Within 24 hours, the local homeless newsletter, the
Street Shit Sheet, hit the streets with a special edition immediately
covering the incident in lurid detail.  Whether the incident was political
retaliation for Argue's high-profile protest, a hasty blow-up from a cop
with a grudge, or bad police work by an ill-trained officer is still
uncertain.  Within a few days after the brutal incident,  Street Spirit
vendors were back on the streets with special Street Shit Sheet  inserts to
the November Street Spirit updating new readers on the state of the First
Amendment on the streets of Santa Cruz: battered but unbowed.

        Santa Cruz  homeless people who wish to become Street Spirit or
Street Shit Sheet  vendors may leave a message on John Maurer's voice mail
at 831/457-9754 X685.   Those who want to support Steve Argue in his
Freedom of the Press lawsuit can call HUFF   at  831/423-4833

Flyer by HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom)   831-423-4833

ARCHIVES  <>  read posts to HPN
TO JOIN  <> or email Tom <>