Santa Monica is in the news again. It began Tuesday, April 21, when officers from the Santa Monica Police Department arrested Justin Leland Palmer, a Santa Monica resident, at a free Virginia Avenue Park electric vehicle charging station. Palmer was allegedly in the park after park closure hours — a violation of municipal code. In addition, the electric charging stations are supposed to close at 8 p.m., even though it is apparently not uncommon for e-car owners to charge their vehicles well into the night.
Palmer told officers that he had been waiting a long time to use the charger and was reluctant to leave although other e-car owners were departing the charging area in response to officers’ request.
According to Sgt.Rudy Camarena in a statement published in this newspaper, “Palmer refused to leave the charging station and after making multiple requests for him to leave, officers decided to issue Palmer a citation. Palmer refused to provide his identification as part of the citation process, at which point officers decided to make an arrest for obstructing an officer and violating the posted hours of the park.”
A statement issued by the SMPD after the incident stated, “During the arrest, the subject actively resisted. Officers deployed pepper spray and physically restrained him. The subject was taken to Santa Monica Public Safety Facility where he was fingerprinted and booked. At the Santa Monica Jail the subject complained of pain. He was transported to the Santa Monica Hospital for treatment and was medically cleared. The subject was subsequently issued a citation (for violating the city’s park closure ordinance and delaying and obstructing officers in the performance of their duties) and released.”
Palmer has retained an attorney and filed an excessive force claim against the City of Santa Monica on May 8. The claim is a precursor of a lawsuit. And the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office has since declined to pursue the case in court.
Police officers spend a great deal of their time dealing with complaints about persons violating minor municipal ordinances such as camping in public, trespassing on private property, littering, interfering in a public business, jaywalking, tents on the beach and smoking in public parks. There are noise and nuisance ordinances, riding bicycles on sidewalks is prohibited and there are laws against being in city parks between specified hours. The list goes on and on. When the police show up, it is their duty to uphold the law — no matter how unfair or unreasonable we may think it is.
So, what are your rights and responsibilities? I found these tips in a free pamphlet assembled by the NAACP Pittsburgh (PA) unit, Black Political Empowerment Project, University of Pittsburgh School of Law plus other contributors and widely distributed by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police:
RIGHTS & RESPONSIBILITIES
1. The police can stop and question you if they have reasonable suspicion that you have done something illegal. In such a stop, they can “pat-down” your clothing to check for a concealed weapon if they suspect you have one. Do not physically resist, but make it clear that you do not consent to any further search.
2. You are not legally required to answer a police officer’s questions. You cannot legally be arrested just for refusing to answer questions or to identify yourself to a police officer. But if you are arrested or cited, failure to identify yourself can lead to additional charges or to you being detained when you might otherwise get only a citation.
3. What you say to the police is always important. What you say can be used against you, and it can cause the police to arrest you.
4. You do not have to consent to any search of yourself, your possessions, your car or your home. If you do not consent to a search, be sure to tell the police. If you do consent to a search, it can affect your rights later in court.
5. If the police say they have a search warrant, ask to see it and check to make sure that it lists the right person or address.
6. Do not interfere with, or obstruct, the police; you can be arrested for it.
7. You have a right to record (audio and video) police activity so long as you can do so safely and do not physically interfere with their work.
1. Be polite and respectful. Although “bad-mouthing” or criticizing a police officer may be legally protected speech, it is not recommended and might cause you problems.
2. Stay calm, control what you say, as well as your body language and emotions.
3. Don’t get into an argument with the police.
4. Keep your hands where the police can see them. Don’t make any sudden movements.
5. Don’t ever touch a police officer.
6. Don’t run.
7. Even though refusing to answer questions is not a crime, it can make the police suspicious about you. If you do decide to talk, remember, anything you say can be used against you.
8. Don’t resist even if you believe you are innocent.
9. Don’t interfere when an officer is doing his or her job.
10. If you believe that you have been the victim of police misconduct:
a. Don’t complain or tell the police that they are wrong or that you will file a complaint against them.
b. Remember the officers’ names, badge numbers and/or patrol car numbers. If the names or badge numbers are not visible, you may politely ask the officer for the information.
c. Write down everything you can remember as soon as you can. Memories fade quickly.
d. Try to find witnesses. Try to get their names, email addresses and phone numbers.
e. lf you are injured, take photographs of the injuries as soon as possible, get medical attention, and tell the doctor what happened.
Remember, without law enforcement, we’re doomed to anarchy and chaos.
Bill Bauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.