Santa Barbara Police Agree to Protect Protestors’ Rights

April 5, 2007 12:00 am

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ACLU of Southern California Settles Case of Man Arrested for Reading Names of Iraq War Dead

LOS ANGELES – Michael Tocher was a peaceful man with a megaphone and a message of protest when Santa Barbara police arrested him on Veterans Day in 2004. Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California announced a settlement of its lawsuit against the city over his wrongful arrest.

Tocher was handcuffed and searched on Nov. 11, 2004, as he read the names of U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq. According to court filings, he read 400 of the 1,200 names through a megaphone before police arrived and arrested him without explanation or a warning. He was later cited for disturbing the peace and spent several hours in police custody.

Under the terms of the settlement filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the City of Santa Barbara will pay $17,000 in damages to Tocher and adopt a new policy and training procedure to protect the free speech rights of its residents.

“The irony is that I was recognizing the sacrifices of American troops in a peaceful and respectful way,” said Tocher, a father of two who has continued his Veterans Day tradition. “I filed this case so my own kids won’t have to face the tyranny of having someone else’s will imposed on them.”

“In this country you can’t go to jail just because someone doesn’t like what you say or how loudly you say it,” said ACLU of Southern California Staff Attorney Peter Bibring. “This settlement will ensure that Santa Barbara residents aren’t arrested when they voice their opinions about their government.”

The ACLU of Southern California filed a claim for damages on Tocher’s behalf in May 2005, and the city of Santa Barbara fought it for a year and a half before a judge ruled in November 2006 that his arrest was unlawful and a result of the city’s failure to train its officers properly about its disturbing the peace ordinance.

The new police department policy states that “the Constitution guarantees the right to protest in a peaceful manner” and explains that “officers responding to disturbance complaints during demonstrations must be cognizant of demonstrators’ rights.” The policy creates new procedures to ensure protestors are not arrested without prior warning or legal justification.

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