Walter Mencken 11:31 a.m., Feb. 1
Animal rights activists sue the City for harassment and threats of arrest during demonstrations
Protestors claim they have been targeted for demonstrating against mistreatment of animals by the Ringling Brothers Circus.
Is the City Attorney's Office getting tired of those pesky demonstrators. The latest alleged crackdown involves animal rights activists protesting against the treatment of animals used in the Ringling Brother's Circus at the Sports Arena -- now known as the Valley View Casino Center.
According to a July 16 lawsuit filed by animal rights attorney Bryan Pease on behalf of the Animal Protection and Rescue League, police officers continually threaten demonstrators with arrest, jail-time, and fines for picketing and passing out leaflets when the circus is in town.
In 2012, one protestor was hauled to jail. The City Attorney's Office has since decided to file charges against her in court.
The complaint alleges that police officers and owners of the arena are apt to turn a blind eye to some illegal activities but are quick to target peaceful protests on their property.
"The Valley View Casino Center operators and owners permit multiple legal and illegal sales of tickets to events to be sold on their property or turn a blind eye for such activity, permit people to "tail gate" on their property, and generally congregate around their property regardless of whether such people are ticket holders or intend to go to the event."
The demonstrators object to what they feel is cruel and inhumane treatment of baby elephants and other circus animals. They say their best chance at informing the public is through picketing and passing out leaflets directly to zoo-going families.
"Plaintiffs believe that the face-to-face distribution of literature in a peaceful manner, with the opportunity to respond to questions or otherwise interact with the circus patrons is the most effective form of communications.
"Distributing literature, which includes photographs of baby elephants being restrained, the use of bull hooks on elephants, the captivity of tigers in small cages are more effective of educating patrons of the circus than waiving signs and yelling."
Activists say the San Diego Municipal Code allows for peaceful protest activities to take place on the property of privately owned businesses when that business is open to the public and the protestors do not harass patrons.
In their lawsuit, protestors demand the City allow them to exercise their First Amendment rights by gathering in the parking lot surrounding the arena. The protestors also are requesting that police officers and security personnel refrain from issuing threats or from intimidating the demonstrators.
Officials from the City Attorney's Office rejects the notion that its attorneys are anti-protest and that the City Attorney in particular hopes to prohibit peaceful demonstrations.
In a July 19 email, spokesperson Michael Giorgino says the City Attorney respects the right for protest but at the same time protestors "are not relieved of obeying the law while protesting...Thus, for example, anti-abortion protesters have been regularly prosecuted for blocking clinics, as are protesters who engage in violence."
According to the email, Giorgino says Jan Goldsmith's Office has a new policy for protest cases.
"As recently learned from the chalk case that was not brought to his attention until he saw media accounts shortly before trial, the City Attorney has not been regularly consulted on protest cases. For that reason, the City Attorney has requested that all protest cases be brought to his attention for review before being issued. This policy is similar to manslaughter cases which require the City Attorney’s review. The City Attorney cannot possibly review all 20,000 cases handled by the office's Criminal Division."
Due to the large number of cases, the City Attorney, says Giorgino, is not always informed of every prosecution. That's the case with the animal rights activist.
"There was a protest that involved alleged violations of the law reported by the San Diego Police Department. The case was reduced to an infraction by the prosecutor, who is no longer with the office. The defendant went to trial on an infraction, not misdemeanor, was convicted and ordered to pay a fine."
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