Verbena Speaks Truth to Power May 7, 2013

shortlink here:

mnemonic here:

PLEASE come support the three civil rights small claims lawsuits against the City of Eureka and Eureka Police officers!  Thanks to everyone who has been coming.  It makes all the difference!

9:00am Board of Supes Chambers 1st Floor of Humboldt County Courthouse, Eureka

Should go into the afternoon, but get there as soon as you can!  Please sit visibly behind me (on the same side of the room).   Beware of creepy cops, politicians, and lawyers.

See you there!



[Verbena’s opening statement to the court, Starr vs. City of Eureka, May 7th, 2013, Humboldt County Superior Court, Humboldt County Superior Court Case SC120438]


Good Morning

The First Amendment protects the right to gather information about what public officials do on public property, and specifically, a right to record matters of public interest.

We are here because the City of Eureka and many officers of the Eureka Police department, acting under the color of authority, began, on November 7, 2011, a vicious campaign of intimidation against a popular political demonstration. While I was filming them from a “comfortable remove,” they arrested, then incarcerated me without legal cause. They also arrested and incarcerated others without legal cause, stole and destroyed tons of personal and political property, seriously discouraged and indeed crushed mine and others’ exercise of our Constitutional rights. Although, on November 7, 2011, I filmed the beginning of this repressive campaign including the Eureka police making several arrests, exercising a particularly violent use of force on one person, and staging an intimidating attack in the dark on non-violent demonstrators, no one will ever see my video because the Defendants erased or ruined all that I recorded -and put me in jail.

Videotaping police activity in public is a Constitutionally protected right.

During the early morning hours of November 7, 2011, I was unlawfully arrested and my clearly-established First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated. I was standing across the street from the Humboldt County Courthouse and filming the police action on the Occupy Eureka protest site. By across the street, I mean across the three lane 101 North (also called 5th Street). The 101, in this particular stretch, also has parking lanes and wide sidewalks on both sides.

In front of the Humboldt County Courthouse, the entrance of which is on the 101 (5th St), between K and I, there is a cement plaza area with two wide sets of stairs, a few benches and a large planter; the courthouse lawn spans from the benches and planter to the sidewalk on I Street. Across the street, which is often referred to as the south side of 5th Street, there is a sidewalk, manicured greenery and a large parking lot for the public health building.

Early mornings of November 2011 were dark on the courthouse lawn and plaza area, and although the 101 north, and that spot in particular is a busy auto traffic area, there is not so much traffic in the early morning. On November 7, 2011, many police officers and vehicles came to the Occupy Eureka site about 3:30am; some people were asleep on the lawn and some under the only weather awning; some people were awake near the information tables, chatting near where they could talk to passers-by.

I was not there; I received a quick call for copwatch; a nervous, emergency call that lasted about 3 seconds.

I am a seasoned copwatch person, meaning I carry a video camera and film officers on the street and at protests. For years, I have been exercising my right to watch and film police officers when they are in public encountering members of the public. For years I have filmed local police officers. I have also been, for almost a decade, facilitating workshops on exercising basic Constitutional rights -when one is approached or pulled over by police and when watching and/or photographing police.

The First Amendment right publicly to record the activities of police officers on public business is clearly established. I work with Redwood Curtain CopWatch, one of many groups that has exercised this right in order to increase direct police accountability to communities, to participate in police reform and oversight, to encourage civic participation by community members, and to promote justice and transparency. In my experience, the protection and exercise of the right to record police activity in public places has been necessary to further those goals and to realize the aims and principles underlying the First Amendment’s guarantees against government misconduct through active public involvement. It is common knowledge that copwatch groups, such as the one I work with, post videos online for public awareness and/or preserves recordings to be used as evidence in criminal and civil cases. Indeed, videos taken by civilians observing police or while they themselves were encountering police have prompted investigations, indictments, prosecutions, and acquittals. All copwatch groups encourage and educate about the importance of common people, whether or not affiliated with a group, learning to stop, watch and film when government agents are encountering civilians. It is especially crucial, due to historical harassment by police of certain groups, to copwatch when police engage with homeless people, youth, people of color, and folks involved in political protest. Fortunately, Californians, unlike people in a few states such as Illinois and Maryland, have a well-established and long-time tradition of asserting their Constitutional right to observe, photograph and record police activity in public places. For instance, Berkeley CopWatch began in 1990, and Redwood Curtain CopWatch in 2007.

During the local Occupy Eureka demonstration in front of the Humboldt County Courthouse, which began in early October 2011, I often did shifts with my camera to film any possible interactions with police. I am well aware of the right to film, I keep up with court developments regarding this basic right, and understand and respect the balance between the right to film and the right of officers to keep a safe zone around themselves. I know that the right to videotape officers has been repeatedly and recently upheld by U.S. courts. I refer the Court to Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F. 3d 78 – Court of Appeals, 1st Circuit September, 2011. Documenting is important because photos, video, and sound are helpful if something happens- better for it to be documented.

The evidence in this case will show that on November 7th, EPD officers were opposed to people filming what they were doing. Defendant O’Neill directed the officers to prohibit videotaping or phone use by people at the public protest site, while Eureka Police carried out their action. All of my video, which I took standing across the street from the protest site on the morning of November 7, 2011 was deliberately erased or destroyed by defendants, most likely Michael Guy, who, in my presence, slammed my camera on the back of the police car. You might be imagining what that looked like. Guy caused the innards of the camera, the batteries and recording disc to fall out, and interrupted the camera in its processing of the video I recorded during the intimidating and chilling November 7 police action. If the slam didn’t ruin the video, Guy sent it to the Eureka police station when he and Defendant O’Neill unlawfully arrested and incarcerated me, instead of sending the camera with my jail property- All of my video was gone seven hours later, when I was released from jail.

Beginning in September of 2011, the Occupy Wall Street movement spawned thousands of demonstrations across the U.S. and beyond. Occupy Eureka, staged in front of the Humboldt County Courthouse, was a popular, broadly supported, diverse movement; a series of demonstrations, forum for discussion and example of democracy and people standing up for economic and social justice. The defendants have displayed a serious disdain for the people of Eureka filming police activity; a disdain for people gaining popular support locally around issues of injustice, wealth disparity, government corruption, and theft of the commons; and a disdain for protests gaining traction and broad support. The Occupy movement, globally and locally, intrigued and involved many people who had never encountered police and could be easily intimidated by police fear tactics. It also involved many people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, who can also be easily intimidated by the all-too frequent presence of police in their lives.

On November 7, 2011 Defendants began an intense police campaign to wipe out the Occupy Eureka demonstration by depriving protesters of both basic human necessities and the ability to express their messages; by discouraging and instilling fear and terror in the protesters, supporters, and the public at large; and by defaming protesters and lying about the impetus for police action, lies which they continue today. Defendants created a chilling effect . Testimony, video, and document evidence here will show that the City of Eureka and Eureka Police acted to marginalize the local and popular political movement using scare tactics. They created a chilling effect, inhibiting people from continuing their support for and participation in the protest. On November 7th, 2011, Defendants, led by Patrick O’Neill, carried out a large, intimidating attack on protesters, documenters, and anyone who might consider coming to the courthouse to hang a banner, hold a sign, set up a literature table, share food, or participate in the melting pot community that was being cultivated. Through fear, violence, theft, unlawful arrests and arbitrary orders, Defendants planned to make it impossible for the demonstration to continue.

Prior to November 7, 2011, there had been no tension to speak of between the people at Occupy Eureka and the Eureka police. Sometimes, the police would say, your banner is covering that street sign, please move it, and a person would. The Defendants had no justification for the paramilitary-style raid on the Occupy Eureka demonstration on November 7th- relations between the police and the demonstrators had been amicable. Neither the police nor the City, before November 7th, had provided any letters, requests or demands upon the demonstrators. Occupy Eureka participants had pro-actively communicated with the City of Eureka and the County of Humboldt, inviting any and all government officials to nightly assemblies and requesting a publicly held meeting if any local body had issues with the demonstration. Defendant City failed to take the Occupy protest up on any of their invitations. However, bout two nights (or early mornings) before the 7th, I got calls from the demonstration; twice, in the dark, Eureka officers had driven to the far side of the County Public Health parking lot across the street, faced the demonstration, shined and flashed their headlights, simultaneously got out of the cars, then got back in and drove away. They deliberately made the demonstrators nervous.

Evidence obtained through a California Public Records Request will show that emails beginning on November 2, 2011 between the Humboldt County District Attorney and other government officials (including Defendants, gave rise to the raid although the DA stated that “..[he did] not believe that any individual out there intends to do any harm to the county government, county property, or any individual…” The Defendants, according to this email, already had a plan to take out Occupy Eureka, and treated me and others as if we were criminals. On November 7, 2011, Defendants systematically set me and others up for arrest and to lose our property.

The defendants goals, coming to Occupy Eureka in the dark wee hours of the morning, in riot gear, was to intimidate people and shut down the protest. The only reasons for Defendants on November 7th, to swarm in large number, carry FN Police Rifles, shine bright lights on the demonstrators, forbid filming and cell phone use, and steal every piece of property they could was to intimidate people and shut down the protest. Defendants retaliated against community members for successfully organizing together to exercise, en mass, the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The evidence will show that on November 7th, Defendants directed people on site early morning at the Occupy Eureka protest, to “get all your stuff and get out of here.” Defendants also directed people to bring all of their personal property and the protest property across the street to the south side of 5th. They created a deliberately confusing situation. Defendants told people they could film from across the street, but they arrested me doing just that. Defendants cuffed and uncuffed people, gave varying orders, made arbitrary and varying commands. Defendants were disingenuous and gave the protesters impossible tasks. They told protesters to quickly move all of the property, tents, canopies, a full kitchen, supplies, signs, banners, personal gear, information tables, EVERYTHING across the street. Two people loaded their personal pick up trucks as fast as they could. But Occupy participants were forbidden from using cell phones to call for more help. The police took one person’s phone preventing him from calling anyone for help to move or load the equipment and banners.

Some of the homeless protesters on site who had found safety at the demonstration left immediately, never to see their property again.

When someone stayed on site to hold a sign, he was arrested.

When someone inquired as to Defendants purpose, she was arrested.

When people didn’t move fast enough, they were arrested.

From across the street, I filmed.

Many of the protesters hurriedly brought things across the street where I and four or five other witnesses were observing and/or filming the goings on.

One protester made many trips back and forth, carrying lots of protest materials across the street, per police orders.

The police suddenly decided he would no longer be allowed to move property, so they chased him to the South side of the street, abused him while he was on the ground, Defendant Guy wrapped his limbs with nunchukas while he was down, and arrested him. I filmed. It was extremely upsetting, but I did not interfere, I filmed.

By the time every protest item was on the south side of 5th street, where it had been directed by defendants to go, defendants had arrested almost everyone who had brought it there. Then, Defendants came and arrested those of us on the South side of the street. There was no unlawful assembly. I was committing no crime nor did I intend to. I was not committing violent acts or inciting others to violence. It felt like a set up. As I waited to go to jail in handcuffs, Defendant Guy slammed my camera, I watched two more people get arrested, and watched and heard the police throw without any care, the property that had been brought to the south side of 5th street into a large boarded up City truck -brought for that purpose. I heard things break as Defendants threw 1000’s of dollars worth of property and meaningful signs into the truck. Defendants filled boarded up truckloads and drove it all away.

Defendants had no intention to allow anyone to remain and exercise Constitutional rights. By 6 in the morning, the area in front of the Courthouse and across the street was a ghostly empty site- no people, no signs, no protest. Yet, 2 weeks later, officers SUPPLEMENTAL REPORTS state that the plan had been to allow the 24/7 protest to continue, once all the property was across the street. But the Defendants made that impossible. Those they didn’t scare away, they arrested. Defendant officers’ November 7th deeds and their reports about that date are full of dissonance.

Defendants destroyed much of the property they stole. For instance, the poles from every tent confiscated on November 7, 2011, returned over 4 months later, were cut and disconnected.

The City of Eureka violated mine and others rights because it did not want the Occupy protest to grow or gain even more popularity within the community . The City and other Defendants flagrantly targeted the protest, stripped people of their expressive signs, stole and destroyed survival gear, food, literature, and freedom, creating a chilling effect and interfering by force, intimidation and coercion with my exercise and enjoyment of my rights. In addition to stripping me of any due process, and protection from restraint and unreasonable search and seizure, the defendants created an environment of fear and distrust that served to systematically deprive me of my 1st amendment rights. Contrary to the untrue, convoluted, and deliberately prejudicial story that Defendants put before this Court through their Motion to Consolidate, Defendants faced no danger, threat, or interference on November 7, 2011 from the Occupy Eureka demonstrators or the observers.

They did not face any danger from me or anyone there, and I was across the street. They knew that I would only film them. Defendants wanted to “get the last cooperatives to jail”, “throw everything in the truck and get out of here”as the CAD report indicated.

Eureka Police stole over $1,000 worth of my property and property that my organization had loaned the demonstration. Had I not been arrested while filming, I could have documented the massive theft of property, and perhaps been able to retrieve my own. Also, had anyone been given prior warning, I could have removed some of that property. However, the City chose to give no warning, and make a surprise attack in the dark. Video, document, and testimonial evidence will show that the Defendants failed to follow any procedure for taking possession of property or for booking so-called evidence. Defendants failed to log all of the property they took on November 7, 2011, except the few items worn by people they arrested. Defendants destroyed every anti-police brutality sign and banner, many of which had historical significance with Redwood Curtain Copwatch and the community. Defendants failed to inventory the property, failed to return much of it, destroyed a lot of it, and lied to us at every turn when we tried to get it back.

I am asking that each named Defendant be found to have, under color of authority, interfered by force, intimidation and coercion with my exercise and enjoyment of my constitutional and statutory rights including but not limited to rights guaranteed under the 1st, 4th, 5th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article 1 section 2,3,7and 13 of the California Constitution. In addition, the named defendants violated my right to be free from bodily restraint or harm as guaranteed under section 43 of the California Civil Code. I am asking that the court require them to pay a civil penalty of $2,500 as outlined in section 52.1 of the California Civil Code. $2,500 is a lesser amount than I am due, but in order to stay within statutory limits in Small Claims, I am suing for that amount.

Hollering “We love you” to people getting arrested is protected speech.

Chanting songs and repeating protest phrases is protected speech.

Calling out police brutality is protected speech.

Scolding police for improper behavior is protected speech.

Filming police activity is protected activity.

On the other hand, false arrest is a civil rights violation. False imprisonment is a civil rights violation.

Targeting someone for filming police in public is a civil rights violation. Destroying someone’s property- a civil rights violation. Creating a chilling effect, seriously discouraging the exercise of Constitutional rights is a civil rights violation.

Defendants have no lawful justification for the harm they inflicted on me and others, and to the spirit of the First Amendment.

contact Verbena:


About highboldtage

60 something ya. Libertarian Socialist, community activist, writer and troubador.
This entry was posted in Civil Rights, Constitutional Rights, Cop Watch, Eureka, Fascism, First Amendment, Free Speech, Humboldt, Local News, Occupy, Police Brutality, Police State and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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