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Indybay Feature

Sinister Street Singer Citation Goes to Trial: Round One

Thursday, March 25, 2010
1:30 PM - 2:30 PM
Event Type:
Robert Norse
309 Cedar PMB #14B Santa Cruz 95060
Location Details:
701 Ocean Street in the basement of the County Building in Department 10, the Court of Commissioner Kim Baskett

On January 6, Michele D. apparently heard some commotion on the sidewalk and came down from her residence in the St. George to see what was happening. She ended up being cited for "singing loudly" though she hadn't been there at all.
She'll be appearing in court to defend herself from this completely false charge.

In front of the Bookshop Santa Cruz, activists were tabling, serving the homeless food, giving out literature, and playing the occasional song in front of the Bookshop Santa Cruz in the Free Speech Zone.

They were publicizing and protesting laws against the homeless like the City's Sleeping Ban, which contributed, they contended to the three-fold increase in the homeless death rate over the previous year. One placard named the 45-57 homeless people who had died in 2009. (See

Officer Shoenfeld, a rookie cop, was arranging for citations to be written to three activists (originally five apparently, accor
ding to her subsequent police report) for singing at the usual volume on the sidewalk.

Shoenfeld, who had barged into the middle of a low-key song "Let it Snow" first insisted the singers leave or face a $445 "citizen's citation". Asked what an acceptable level of singing was, Shoenfeld refused to answer, declining even to say if what she heard was "unreasonably disturbing" as required by the law. Nonetheless, the singers agreed to sing more quietly.

Instead of leaving the activists to resume their tabling and singing, Shoenfeld encouraged the original complainant Sean Reilly, a hostile critic of the singing and 2nd floor St. George Hotel resident to use her to give out citations.

Apparently the police are using a new tactic--playing more softly isn't an option, musicians have to leave, if there is a "heckler's veto", regardless of whether the music is within the legal limits.

The completely uninvolved Michele was cited as well, though she hadn't been there throughout the event, wasn't singing when she arrived or any time thereafter, and was shocked when Officer Inouye grabbed and threatened her as she tried to walk away.

Some of the Michele's dismay and outrage can be found in the dialogue captured at about one hour and six minutes into the audio file.

The beginning of the incident is at about five hours and twenty five minutes into the audio file. The incident continues at about one hour and three minutes into the audio file.

The "crime" was "unreasonably disturbing noises" (MC 9.36.020) which actually allows an exemption for sounds made "necessary in connection with an activity which is otherwise lawfully conducted."

Some photos of the event and lyrics of one of the songs sung can be found at

Activists wonder if HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) was specifically targeted because of its opposition to the police/DTA sweeps downtown. Or whether Officer Shoenfeld was simply punishing the activists for declining to move (though agreeing to sing more softly) and repeatedly asking Shoenfeld what was the noise standard, so they could follow the law.

Becky Johnson, who wrote an account of the incident at goes to trial Friday, March 26 at 10 AM in the Dept. 1 in the main courthouse in the "court" of Ariadne Symons.

There is some speculation that the charges are so groundless and the attack on the singers so unconstitutional that the complainant won't show up to either trial.

There seems to be a general crackdown on musicians on Pacific Avenue with cops using a variety of groundless charges--particularly focusing on harassing the visible homeless. (See "Bucking Bullying Bigots and Badboy Blueshirts DowntownP at )

Activists and civil liberties attorneys have won a recent victory (See "Homeless Frame-Up by Cops and City Attorney Defeated in Rare Court Victory" at We feel the presence of community members witnessing the hearing may have helped to stem the right-wing vigilante tide against the poor in that case. Folks are invited to come down again.

HUFF will be throwing a free meal, again compliments of Jumbogumbo Joe Schultz 1 PM in front of the County Building.
Tasty hot vegan food to prepare the community for the possible courtroom capers.

Two more defendants, Robert "Blindbear" Facer, a homeless singer, and Robert Norse, a local activist, are slated to go to trial in April and May respectively.
Added to the calendar on Wed, Mar 24, 2010 12:05AM

Comments (Hide Comments)
by Robert Norse
Tuesday night Free Radio Santa Cruz had an interesting interview on the subject: .
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