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Indybay Feature

Growing Numbers At Freedom SleepOut #45? Challenge of Police Citations in Court 5-20

Tuesday, May 17, 2016
5:00 PM - 5:00 AM
Event Type:
Keith McHenry
Location Details:
Around City Hall at 809 Center St. on the bricks and sidewalk of along the Center St. corridor

With last week's expanded numbers (See "Freedom Sleepers Continue to Sleep at Santa Cruz City Hall" at the weekly challenge to the City's unconstitutional 11 PM to 8:30 AM Sleeping Ban against the homeless approaches its eleventh month. City Council has taken no action to establish any emergency shelter, establish safe sleeping zones, or decriminalize the 1000-2000 homeless people sleeping outside.

Local Food Not Bombs workers have added regular afternoon vegan food (with a few side providers supplying more meaty sustenance). Last week's police contacts there included some harassment, but no tickets.

The center of City government, traditionally a constitutionally protected area for peaceful protest 24-hours a day, remained a "forbidden zone" after 10 PM at night with police and security guards patrolling the area and driving homeless people from under the eaves of the buildings where they go for protection from rain and wind. The once spacious grassy lawns have been roped off and replaced with cement and ornamental flowers.

Two citations from last year, one from the first night of the SleepOut on July 4-5 last year will come to court 8:30 AM on Friday May 20th in a preliminary attempt to have them dismissed before arraignment and trial in a demurrer hearing. Robert "Bathrobespierre" Norse was a regular in the early nights of the Sleep-Out. He often wears a bathrobe at protests and in court to dramatize and satirize the City's attack on the right of the poor to sleep at night. Conviction at trial before a judge typically results in $198 fines.

Almost all citations against the Freedom Sleepers--of which there have been at least a dozen--were issued as violations of MC 13.04.011. This law bans being in "closed area", which are designated behind closed doors and without public input by the head of the Parks and Recreation [P & R] department.

In 2010 the P & R boss, in private consultation with the police chief and other city bigwigs created made the entire City Hall courtyard and grounds a "No Go" closed zone. The point was to drive away an earlier protest called PeaceCamp 2010, similarly protest the treatment of the unhoused. See "Bad Law Rises Up to Bite the Homeless Again--Parks Boss Steals More Public Space" at .

The Friday 5-20 hearing will challenge MC 13.04.011 on three grounds: that peaceful protest at City Hall at night is constitutionally protected, that MC 13.04.011 itself provides the right to be on a path directly through the area, and that the state's Public Records ("Brown") Act requires 24-hour access to City agendas during the period Norse and the other protesters were there. The agendas, then posted only inside the "forbidden" zone, have now been moved to the sidewalk in a belated City move to "fix" the problem and shore up its position in court.

Norse is looking for a lawyer, but will likely speak for himself. The City has refused to drop the charges and declined to provide full audio and video of the police actions. It has already lost one case at trial (though it's won others) when activist Zav Herschfield argued the posted "do not enter after 10 PM" signs were not visible from the sidewalk.

Homeless Legal Persons Assistance founder and Freedom Sleeper supporter Steve Pleich has assisted Norse in preparing the case.

If Norse loses the demurrer hearing, he'll likely continue the struggle with a second demurrer hearing, an arraignment, a pre-trial conference, and finally a trial before the judge (juries are not allowed in infraction cases).
Added to the calendar on Mon, May 16, 2016 9:11AM
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