For weeks, activist Stewart Payne has had headlines written that pertain to him: “Violent Threats By Occupy Sweetwater Result in Restraining Order” (San Diego Rostra), “Keep Payne Away” (The Star News), and “Court Protects Sweetwater Board Member” (U-T San Diego).
All of this because, on the night of April 16, before a meeting of the Sweetwater Union High School District, Payne and the group Occupy Sweetwater initiated a recall petition against boardmember John McCann and two other trustees.
After the meeting, words were exchanged in the parking lot, and McCann called the police to report Payne had physically threatened him. (Payne had gone home before McCann made the call to police.)
McCann subsequently received a temporary restraining order against Payne and sought a permanent one. On May 9, judge Ana Espana determined that Payne had not threatened McCann and denied the injunction.
Aside from why certain media outlets seemed to mischaracterize Payne's role in the incident, other questions remain. Should the temporary restraining order ever have been issued? And why were inconsistencies in the police report — which became crucial during the hearing — overlooked?
Here are the details of what happened: After the April 16 board meeting, McCann gave an interview with KUSI. During the interview, McCann criticized the people who went to the San Diego district attorney — Payne among them — alleging corruption in the Sweetwater district. McCann characterized the activists as “disgruntled employees” and during the interview said Payne was someone who had been looking for work in the school system.
After the interview, according to the police incident report, “McCann made his way over to Stewart Payne and extended his hand to Payne. McCann stated he wanted to use this as a gesture that there were no hard feelings and as a way to hopefully resolve the tension between the two.”
In a May 9 interview, Payne reasoned with McCann's statement and actions, saying, “Why would you throw me under the bus on camera and then try to come shake my hand? It doesn’t make sense.” Payne said the hearing that resulted in the judgment in his favor centered on inconsistencies in the police report and a follow-up investigation report.
A follow-up investigation, during which Chula Vista police detective Michael Varga interviewed McCann, states, “Payne then raised his balled and clenched fist in preparation to strike McCann.”
However, Varga’s follow-up report with security guard Jorge Sanchez states, “I asked Sanchez about Payne’s physical posture…. Sanchez stated that Payne had one hand extended, and one finger of that hand extended, into McCann’s face…. I asked Sanchez if Payne’s hands were balled into a fist, or if Payne was in any type of fighting stance. Sanchez did not see Payne’s hands balled into a fist and did not recall seeing Payne in any type of fighting stance.”
Jimmy Delgado, an employee of the San Ysidro Elementary School District, provided a witness statement for McCann. According to Delgado, Payne “...aggressively pointed his finger in McCann’s face.” Delgado's description of Payne's gestures agree with Payne’s formal response.
Payne says he backed away from McCann’s advances that night: “I had retreated so far that I could feel other people on my heels…. At this point I became concerned that Mr. McCann was becoming irrational and intending to do me harm. It is at this point that I extended my hand pointing my finger to establish my personal boundary and told him not to come closer or I would protect myself.”
Payne, who defended himself during the May 9 proceedings, said, “Have you ever seen anyone who was going to hit someone with their finger?”
McCann was represented by an attorney at the hearing. According to a May 10 U-T report, “Sweetwater superintendent Ed Brand approved the legal expense. He said the affair may cost the school district around $2,400 in attorney’s fees for McCann.”