When 75-year-old Dan Russell isn’t cleaning up trash from the side of highways he participates in civil demonstrations, mostly holding his “Build the Wall, Enforce the Law” sign.
On June 30 brought his sign to the Families Belong Together demonstration at Waterfront Park next to the County Administration building downtown.
Video of the event shows Russell presenting his message as anti-Trump protesters walk by yelling and cursing at him.
Then 36-year-old San Diego attorney Benjamin Siminou took Russell's sign and ran away with it. Russell gave chase. Siminou dropped the sign and as Russell reached down for it Siminou pushed him to the ground.
When Siminou picked up the sign and continued his flight San Diego deputy sheriffs apprehended and arrested him.
Russell says he then saw a woman jumping on his sign and when he tried again to retrieve it, deputies detained him and the woman.
He says, “It was the first time in my life being handcuffed — a little surprising at the time but no big deal.”
Russell says there was no altercation with the two protesters before the incident.
A sheriff’s department spokesperson says Siminou was booked into San Diego central jail for robbery done with force, which is a felony. Bail was set at $100,000 and he bailed himself out. 35-year-old Julie Corales was cited for vandalism and released.
Russell was escorted to his car and given a case number.
Russell was told Siminou would spend a few days in jail but later found out he is an attorney and did not spend any time in jail.
He began making phone calls to press charges. He says he spoke to Mike Duffek, a manager at the County Administration building, and was told someone would get back to him about how to press charges.
Russell called the sheriff’s department and was told he had plenty of time to file charges and to wait until July 11 for someone to call him back. He later learned through a second-hand source that Siminou was scheduled to be arraigned on July 9.
On July 9 Russell called the D.A.’s office and was told they decided not to file a felony charge against Siminou (the arraignment that day was cancelled) and would transfer the case to the City Attorney’s office to be reviewed for a misdemeanor charge.
City attorney Mara Elliott’s chief of staff Gerry Braun responded to my request for comment by accusing me of advancing the positions of a hate group.
Braun later gave a second response stating the City Attorney’s office received the case from the D.A.’s office July 12 and their criminal division is reviewing it for possible misdemeanor charges.