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Copwatch in Central California
by Mike Rhodes (MikeRhodes [at] Comcast.net)
Monday Feb 20th, 2006 4:24 PM
This is an interesting story from the corporate media here in Fresno about a copwatch project in Reedley where the police are trying to get an injunction to keep this guy 100 yards away from police officers, their relatives, homes and workplaces. The police say that the guy and the copwatch program is irritating.

Fresno Copwatch held a press conference before the court hearing referred to in The Fresno Bee story. That statement is also below.
Reedley police fight videotaping in court
But citizen watchdog makes a counter-claim.
By Pablo Lopez / The Fresno Bee

(Updated Friday, February 17, 2006, 6:52 AM)

The Reedley Police Department went to court Thursday to force Bernabe Santillan, who irritates officers every time he videotapes them in the line of duty, to keep away.

Instead, police officials were served with a counter-claim that would make the city of Reedley liable for Santillan's attorney fees and court costs if the civil injunction is not granted.

The case in Fresno County Superior Court pits Santillan's First Amendment right to document police activity on public streets against the city's desire to stop Santillan from allegedly harassing police officers with his cameras.

Because the issue could take four days of testimony, Judge Jonathan Conklin delayed a hearing on the injunction request until March 10.

Outside court, lawyer Craig Mortensen, who represents the Police Department, said Santillan's actions put officers, as well as the public, at risk. He said he is seeking an injunction that would keep Santillan 100 yards from police officers, their relatives, homes and workplaces.

Mortensen conceded that a person has a constitutional right to assembly, but he said that right is subject to government regulations to "preserve the peace." For example, he said, organizers need a permit to put on a parade.

"This is an attempt to impose reasonable regulations on his rights," he said.

Santillan's lawyer, Charles Magill, called Mortensen's legal maneuver ludicrous because Santillan would not be able to go anywhere in the city. "He's broken no laws," Magill said, noting that police have neither arrested nor cited Santillan since he started videotaping officers last summer.

Outside court, Magill handed Mortensen a counter-claim, indicating that Santillan will be seeking attorneys fees and court costs through California's anti-SLAPP law.

SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, which corporations, developers or government use against individuals who oppose them on public issues, Magill said.

Because these lawsuits chill public debate, Magill said, the city of Reedley would be liable to pay for Santillan's attorneys fees and court costs if the court rejects the injunction.

Until the injunction issue is decided, Santillan said, he will continue to videotape police. "I'm not trying to harass or intimidate the officers," Santillan said. "I'm just making sure they treat people with respect and dignity and act professionally."

Santillan is a former reserve police officer with the Reedley Police Department. He started Copwatch, a grass-roots program in which community members videotape police officers, after he said officers roughed him up in August.

The Reedley City Council voted 5-0 in January to support the Police Department's move to get an injunction against Santillan. The city already has suffered a setback; a judge rejected the police request to get a temporary restraining order against Santillan, court records show.

The reporter can be reached at plopez [at] fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6434.

###

PRESS RELEASE from Fresno Copwatch activists:

Bernabe Santillan began REEDLEY COPWATCH after being brutalized by the Police Department on August 2005. He has since then has filed a complaint against the police officers involved in his arrest and a claim against the city for Police Brutality. He is planning to file a civil rights lawsuit. The Reedley Department has served Bernabe with a restraining order to stay 100 yards away from the cops, their families and homes. 100 yards is the size of a football field. Reedley is small community, where everyone knows everyone. The Santillan family live near some of the cops and several of the cops live near the school where Santillan drops off his children. What are COPWATCHERS suppose to do, move? Sounds like the gang injunctions. So now we COPWATCHERS are considered gangs?

The Reedley Cops have written declarations in support of the injunction where they contradict the other. The Chief of Police states that "at any given time we have only two police officers on patrol and one in the office…" Yet, The Office Pelayo declares under penalty of perjury... "also on the scene with me were Officer Bejar and Officer Cates". So whom are we going to believe the Chief or his officer? The cops have resorted to lying about Bernabe in the attempt to discredit his reputation in order to stop him from filing that civil rights lawsuit.

The hearing is scheduled for Thursday, February 16 at 10:00 a.m. at Department 98B Fresno Superior Court at 1255 Fulton Mall, Fresno. The judge has order An Order to Show Cause hearing to determine whether the Order goes into effect furthermore the judged denied a temporary restraining order.

Rev. Floyd Harris Jr caution all " When there are no meaningful official checks on abusive or violent police behavior, WE THE PEOPLE MUST RESORT TO BEING COPWATCHERS".
Andrea from Berkeley states " Copwatching is a non-violent, constitutionally protected activity that has served as a deterrent to police misconduct in many cities and you can
consider yourself lucky to have citizens who are willing to donate their time to ensure that police officers limit their activity to what is allowed under the law.

Valaria from Seattle Washington wrote to the city manager asking the critical questions "Does the Department and the City no longer believe in a government by the people for the people? Attempting to issue a restraining order against a man who has done nothing but exercise his free speech and movement is a violation of his civil rights"
John from Clovis writes ".The right of the residents of a community to control how they are policed is a fundamental principle of the practice of law enforcement".

COPWATCH is part of growing U.S. movement of citizen groups designed to monitor those in authority. COPWATCHERS are students, professionals, activists, community leaders, and others that seek to provide police oversight by observing police activity, aiding people in airing their concerns and grievances with the police, and reporting their findings to the community. COPWATCH is designed to catch the cities finest at their worst. COPWATCHERS observe and record but do not interfere with police activity. Independent citizen police review and oversight is vital in all communities however since there are none in place, REEDLEY COPWATCH is attempting to provide oversight for the community. COPWATCHERS know that when one does not physically interfere with a police officer one is not committing a crime. Cops don't want people to witness their criminal activity and assault on the people. COPWATCHERS have a first amendment right to watch the police. Besides that we have an obligation to look out for each other. No COURT OF LAW OR POLICE OFFICER CAN REMOVE THAT OBLIGATION.

For more information contact Rev. Floyd Harris Jr. @ NAN (559) 264-0097 or Gloria Hernandez at 268-2261 or at the Comité NO NOS VAMOS officer 498-6033.