Thursday, February 26, 2015

Community Members Take A Seat on Monterey Sidewalk to Protest New Sit-Lie Ban

In October a new law went into effect in the City of Monterey making it illegal to sit or lie on sidewalks in commercial districts. In response, activists staged a sit-in on the sidewalk along Alvarado Street in Downtown Monterey on February 13, and they say they plan to make it a regular event. Individuals with Direct Action Monterey Network (DAMN) organized the demonstration because they believe the law targets individuals without homes, travelers, and the impoverished.

"No person shall sit or lie on a commercial sidewalk or on any object brought or affixed to said sidewalk, from 7:00am until 9:00pm," the new ordinance (Sec. 32-6.2) states.

At the demonstration, community members sat on the sidewalk and held protest signs with messages such as "Don't Criminalize Poverty," "Homelessness Is Not A Crime," and "I'll Sit Where I Want!"

Many people walking by asked what they were protesting. One person sat down immediately with the group on the sidewalk when told their action was in opposition to the new sit-lie law.

A social worker passing by with her children was astounded to find out it was now illegal for people to sit down on the sidewalk. She told demonstrators, "That's terrible! If they are not doing anything, they should just let them!"

One older resident said the demonstration reminded him that "everything is negative here." He linked the new sit-lie law to how climbing on the train at nearby Dennis the Menace Park, which was a favorite pastime of his childhood, was no longer allowed.

Two people walked by and asked each other what the group was doing, and when they read the signs, one of them said to the other, "I'm guessing they are clearing out all the hobos."

"It must be about the hobos," the person repeated.

The demonstration also drew quite a bit of attention from the Monterey Police Department. Five different officers were monitoring the protest less than a block away on foot, and two patrol vehicles drove by. One officer photographed the demonstrators. Additionally, two security guards employed by Uretsky Security were on patrol and in the area the whole time.

Alvarado Street in Monterey.

Four of the Monterey police officers monitoring the demonstration.

Full text of sit-lie law from the Monterey municipal code

Sec. 32-6.2 Prohibiting sitting and lying on commercial sidewalks at certain times -- Exceptions.

(a) Sitting on Commercial Sidewalks at Certain Times Prohibited. No person shall sit or lie on a commercial sidewalk or on any object brought or affixed to said sidewalk, from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m., except as provided in this section.

(b) Exceptions. The prohibition in subsection (a) of this section shall not apply to any person sitting or lying on a commercial sidewalk:

1. Due to a medical emergency;

2. On a wheelchair or other device that is needed for mobility;

3. On a public bench or bus stop bench that is permanently affixed to the sidewalk;

4. Operating or patronizing a commercial establishment conducted on the public sidewalk pursuant to an encroachment permit;

5. Participating in or attending a parade, festival, performance, rally, demonstration, meeting or similar event conducted on pursuant to and in compliance with an event permit or other applicable permit. This section shall not be construed to prohibit persons from obtaining such City permits; or

6. Who is a child seated in a stroller.

These exceptions shall not be construed to allow conduct that is prohibited by other laws.

(c) This section shall not be applied or enforced in a manner that violates the United States or California constitutions.

(d) Necessity of Warning Prior to Citation. No person may be cited for a violation of this section until a peace officer first warns said person that his or her conduct is unlawful and said person is given a change to stop said conduct. One warning by a peace officer to a person who is violating this section is sufficient for a thirty (30) day period as to any subsequent violations of this section by said person during said period.

(e) Commercial Sidewalk -- Definition. As used in this section, “commercial sidewalk” means all sidewalks in front of property designated on the City’s General Plan map for mixed use areas, as shown in Appendix A to the ordinance codified in this chapter.

(f) Penalty. An administrative citation may be issued to any person who violates this section, or a violation may be charged as an infraction. (Ord. 3503 § 2, 2014)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

In Memory of Fallen Officers, Activists Postpone Rally Opposing Attack Vehicle Purchase

Activists organizing to oppose the police purchase of a $250,000 Lenco BearCat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) postponed a rally scheduled to occur during today's Santa Cruz City Council meeting. Members of SCRAM! (Santa Cruz Resistance Against Militarization) changed plans when they found out the Santa Cruz Police Department officers who were killed in 2013 might be honored at the same time as their rally.

Harry Meserve of SCRAM! speaks to council members.

The BearCat rally was postponed when it was realized that a resolution declaring February 26 as "Baker-Butler Memorial Day" was on the council's agenda to honor SCPD's Elizabeth Butler and Loran Baker, who were shot to death while on duty in 2013. Activists thought community members might want to gather in the City Hall courtyard to honor the fallen officers after the adoption of the resolution, as they have done in the past during similar council actions.

Protests against police militarization have been held at the previous four Santa Cruz City Council meetings. Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs had been setting up large tables and serving food outside of council chambers for the rallies, as well as distributing protest signs, but today they did not.

During today's oral communications period, Harry Meserve spoke to council members on behalf of SCRAM! Meserve is also a member of the Santa Cruz chapter of Veterans For Peace.

"In a desire to acknowledge the work of the police, and in memory of Sgt. Loran Baker and Det. Elizabeth Butler, we have decided to forgo the opportunity to speak to you on the BearCat. Individuals will, of course, speak in oral communications on various issues, including perhaps the BearCat, but we as SCRAM! will reserve that right until a future opportunity to speak," Meserve said.

"You know that we feel strongly about the BearCat and its acquisition by the City of Santa Cruz. We are looking forward to the opportunity for the community to make its case on the BearCat," he said.

That opportunity may come in March.

The BearCat was approved by a 6-1 vote during the council's consent agenda on December 9, which many community members feel was an attempt by Santa Cruz police and city staff to sneak the purchase past the public. Mayor Don Lane and Council Member Micah Posner have since indicated they plan to bring back the issue back to the council's agenda sometime in March, but their statements have not addressed activists' full list of demands, which call for the BearCat order to be rescinded.

SCRAM! members have articulated their demands as follows:

1) to bring the BearCat back onto the SC City Council agenda for a full public hearing and to rescind the approval

2) to establish a long term policy for grant applications and acceptance in the City that ensures timeliness, transparency, full public disclosure and input

3) to help develop and implement policies that prevent military equipment from flowing into law enforcement agencies throughout Santa Cruz County

Community members opposed to the BearCat purchase are planning to rally again at the next Santa Cruz city council meeting on Tuesday, March 10.

Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel, Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark, and Sgt. Mike Harms (from left to right) were present in council chambers during the discussion of "Baker-Butler Memorial Day."

Friday, February 20, 2015

Santa Cruz Dream Inn Workers Go on Strike

Workers at the Santa Cruz Dream Inn began a two-day strike today, prompting the hotel to close its restaurant, Aquarius. Cooks, Waiters, Bartenders, Bell Persons, Front Desk Clerks, Room Cleaners, Maintenance Workers, and all other employees are refusing to work, and picket lines are scheduled for the front of the hotel from 6am-10pm for both days of the strike. Workers approved the action after months of failed contract negotiations with owners, who have been expecting them to accept a three-year wage freeze.

This afternoon, workers carried signs in front of the hotel with messages such as "Dream in Workers Cannot Afford 3 Years Wage Freeze," "Workers Love Their Jobs and Their Community. A Fair Wage Will Help to Live Here," and "Dream Inn Workers Ask for A Fair Contract Now!"

One of the many march chants workers called out in unison today as they walked the picket line was, "Dream Inn, Rich and Rude, We Don't Like Your Attitude!"

Dream Inn's management has taken over work responsibilities at the hotel, and a flyer handed out by workers is encouraging customers to demand a refund.

"Tell management you expect workers and customers to be treated better," the flyer stated.

Workers at the Santa Cruz Dream Inn are members of Unite Here! Local 483, the labor union that has represented hotel, restaurant, and other service workers in the Monterey Bay since 1937.

Workers are presently without a contract and have been negotiating with the hotel since mid-2014. Owners have proposed workers take a three-year wage freeze followed by 1% and 2% raises in the fourth and fifth years. Monthly pickets of the hotel began in September, and in mid-January, 96% of workers voted to go on strike. The union says the Dream Inn's management has not met with them since that time or made any effort to try and reach an agreement.

The union has said that because business is "booming" at the hotel, with summer-time reservations now being made for some rooms costing over $500 and $600, the Dream Inn should be "ashamed" of their demand.

The picket line is scheduled to occur until 10pm tonight, and from 6am to 10pm on Saturday, February 21.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Family and Friends Remember Phillip Watkins, 23-Year-Old Killed by San Jose Police

Family, friends, and community supporters came together on February 14 for a candle light vigil to honor 23-year-old Phillip Watkins, who was shot and killed by two officers with the San Jose Police Department on February 11. About one hundred people attended the vigil, and many spoke about what a positive person Phillip was, and how he changed their lives.

Phillip was the father of a young girl, who was at the vigil with her mother, Phillip's life-partner. Also in attendance was Phillip's mother and sisters, and his partner's mother.

Phillip attended San Jose High and De Anza College, playing on the football teams of both schools. Fitness and exercise was his passion.

One of Phillip's sisters who spoke at the vigil described her brother as "always giving what he had for others," and she recalled that whenever the ice cream man would come around their neighborhood during their childhood, Phillip would always share his money with her so that she was sure to get what she wanted.

"Now is the time to live through Phillip," she said. "That's what keeps me ok."

One family friend handed out cards for loved ones to write their memories of Phillip on, so that they could be saved for Phillip's daughter to read one day.

Co-workers of Phillip's from Walmart said he was always nice to be around. A number of people who worked with Phillip at Walmart attended the vigil, including a manager of the store. They described how they "built" the Walmart where they all worked. They were its first employees, and they worked there from the moment the foundation was laid, helping to establish every inch of the store. As a result they felt bonded to each other, and Phillip, in a special way.

Laurie Valdez helped facilitate the vigil. In February of 2014, Valdez lost her life-partner and the father of her son, Antonio Guzman Lopez, when San Jose State University police officers shot and killed him as he was walking home from work. A year later, the details of his death still aren't clear. Police have claimed he was a threat due to a tool he was carrying at the time, and Valdez has filed a lawsuit against the department.

Phillip's family didn't speak about the details of his death at the vigil.

The somber gathering was held at the location of Phillip's killing, which is near the corner of Alma and Sherman Street in San Jose.

The two San Jose Police officers who shot Phillip were identified as Ryan Dote ( #4006) and James Soh (#4075), both of whom have eight years on the job, according to a February 12 press release issued by SJPD to announce the killing had occurred.

Police say they were called to a residence on Sherman Street on February 11 by a person who told them there was "a male breaking into his home armed with a knife." The press release also stated that he said, "he was locked in an upstairs bedroom with his children and requested help from police."

Police say that when they arrived on the scene they spotted Phillip Watkins with a knife in his hand, and he was running towards them. They say they warned him to stop, but shot and killed him when he would not. Police say they later determined it was Watkins himself who had called police to the home, which some have speculated was an attempt to entice them into to killing him as an act of "suicide by cop."

A picture of the knife police say they found was included in the press release. The photo revealed that it was a small knife with an approximately four inch blade.

RIP Phillip Watkins 1992-2015.

Phillip's partner speaks, while holding his daughter. Phillip's mother and sisters look on.

Laurie Valdez speaks, with Phillip's mother and sisters.

Writing down memories of Phillip for his daughter.

BearCat Battle Moves Forward in Santa Cruz, City Council May Revisit Issue in March

February 10 marked the fourth consecutive Santa Cruz City Council meeting where residents have protested the police purchase of a $250,000 BearCat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) funded by two Department of Homeland Security grants. As with the previous protests, community members again rallied in the City Hall courtyard and entered Tuesday's council meeting as a group to speak out against the purchase of the armored attack-style vehicle during the open communications period at 5pm.

City council chambers.

A large group of community members hoped to speak to the BearCat issue, but Mayor Don Lane did not add any time to the oral communications period, as he had done at the previous two city council meetings when attendance was high. As a result, some people were not allowed to speak.

However, Council Member Micah Posner, along with Lane, announced that they would be bringing the BearCat issue back to the council's agenda in March.

"What is anticipated to come up to the agenda in March," Mayor Lane said, "is both the vehicle use policy and the discussion of the system for procurement going forward on larger items like this and the grant program, how we accept grants."

Lane said there would be time for the public to discuss the BearCat issue at the meeting in March.

Community members continue to call for the BearCat order to be rescinded.

The announcement from Lane and Posner addresses some of the subjects of interest cited by community members organizing with SCRAM! (Santa Cruz Resistance Against Militarization!), but the group's three demands remain as follows:

1) to bring the BearCat back onto the SC City Council agenda for a full public hearing and to rescind the approval

2) to establish a long term policy for grant applications and acceptance in the City that ensures timeliness, transparency, full public disclosure and input

3) to help develop and implement policies that prevent military equipment from flowing into law enforcement agencies throughout Santa Cruz County

Santa Cruz City Hall.

Sherry Conable of SCRAM! speaks.

Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs table outside of Council Chambers.

Police Chief Vogel speaks about fireworks as community members entered the chambers.

Speaking to the city council.

Vietnam Veteran Frederick Baker of Veterans For Peace speaks to the council.

Ron Pomerantz of SCRAM! speaks to the council.

Community member wearing a "BearCat" around their neck.

Council chambers.

Santa Cruz Residents Call for Sheriff to Accept Responsibility for 'Unnatural' Jail Deaths

Since August of 2012, six people have died while in custody at the Santa Cruz County Jail. On January 24, community members came together for a 'Cages Kill' rally and march to raise awareness about poor medical conditions inside of the jail, as well as to discuss the broader issue of the negative effects of mass incarceration, both locally and on the State of California. The rally was organized in response to the death of 65-year-old Sharyon Gibbs, who was found dead in the jail on November 5, 2014.

Marching down Pacific Avenue.

On November 5, commercial news outlets reported that the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department alerted the press to the death of Sharyon Gibbs, and sent out a notice that stated it was due to "probable natural causes." The full Sheriff's press release was never published publicly on the department's website. Follow up reports in commercial news outlets appeared in mid-December, reporting that Santa Cruz County coroners had determined her death to be caused by "heart problems" that were "naturally caused" by "cardiac arrhythmia related to heart disease." The Sheriff's department did not release this information to the general public on their website either.

According to her obituary, Gibbs worked in the health care profession and she attended Cabrillo College, where she studied Nursing. She was a 30-year resident of Santa Cruz County and a Mother of four, a Grandmother of six, and a Great-Grandmother of two.

The lack of details released to the public concerning the death of Sharyon Gibbs is in contrast to the greater breadth of information made available through an investigation into the previous five deaths at the jail, which was published by the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury in May of 2014.

Titled, "Five Deaths in Santa Cruz: An Investigation of In-Custody Deaths," the Grand Jury's report detailed the results of their investigation into the deaths, which occurred between August 2012 and July 2013. It found that all of five of the in-custody death cases involved failures by jail staff at critical points in the process of administering health and mental care.

The report found that the death rate in the jail during this time period was four times the national average, and that while heart disease and suicide were listed as the leading causes of jail deaths nationally during this period and accounted for half of all jail deaths, 60% of the Santa Cruz jail deaths were due to heart attacks or suicides.

"In some instances, individuals were incorrectly classified or not properly monitored. In others, inadequate treatments were applied," the Grand Jury Report stated. The report criticized both the Sheriff's Department's staff, which operates the county jail system, as well as California Forensics Medical Group (CFMG), a privately owned business which took over medical operations in 2012. The decision to privatize medical care in the jail was made by the Board of Supervisors.

"The Sheriff's Department and CFMG have publicly disagreed with almost all the findings of the report, and since then, another person [Sharyon Gibbs] has died," the organization Sin Barras stated in a press release for the January 24 Cages Kill rally. Sin Barras is a Santa Cruz based group that supports measures to reform jail and prison conditions, while also working on the broader long-term goal of prison abolition.

The march began at the Santa Cruz Town Clock and traveled down Pacific Avenue, eventually making its way to the county's main jail on Water Street. A wide range of speakers addressed the issue of mass incarceration along different points of the march. At the jail, individuals spoke in front of the main entrance as families entered and exited during visiting hours. Some visiting relatives stopped to listen.

The rally concluded at the rear of the main jail complex, where the group held an energetic and emotional noise/solidarity demonstration to let inmates know that people on the outside care about them. In response, inmates pounded on the windows of their cells, and some loud whistles could also be heard. At one point an inmate could be heard shouting out loudly from the inside, "I love you!!!"

Two of the speakers at the Cages Kill rally were local residents who feel that the poor medical conditions inside of the Santa Cruz County Jail were responsible for the deaths of their loved ones.

At the Town Clock, Jessica Espinoza spoke about the death of her uncle, local surfer Arthur Anthony Deans. Photos of Deans were featured in multiple issues of Surfer magazine in the 1980s, but the wave-rider's public acclaim soon became overshadowed by his personal struggles with addiction. Deans began using drugs while in his 20s, and as a result he found himself in and out of the Santa Cruz jail.

In November of 2008, Deans experienced a three-minute seizure while incarcerated in the Santa Cruz County Jail. His family believes he should have been taken immediately to hospital, but it took a month, after many complaints from them, for Deans to see a doctor at Dominican. After a cat-scan discovered a tumor, Deans received emergency surgery to have it removed. His doctor informed the family that a majority of the tumor was removed, but that they could have gotten it all out if Deans had been taken to hospital two weeks earlier. Arthur Deans eventually died in 2011, and his family believes he would still be alive today if he had received the proper medical attention after he experienced the seizure in jail.

"His voice needs to be heard," Espinoza said. "We need to honor him as well as all of those who have been neglected because they're incarcerated."

When the march was on Pacific Avenue, demonstrators blocked traffic at Cooper Street for a period of time. Fox Sloan stood in the middle of the street and spoke about her daughter Amanda Sloan, the 30-year-old mother of three who was found dead in the Santa Cruz County Jail on July 17, 2013. Amanda's was one of the "five deaths" investigated by the Grand Jury.

"My daughter Amanda Fox Sloan was allowed to commit suicide in the Santa Cruz County Jail in July of 2013," her mother said to demonstrators who were also standing in the street and listening.

"Amanda had suffered a loss of many very important, pivotal people in her life," Fox Sloan said.

Sloan stated that between 2010 and 2012, Amanda lost her father, her favorite uncle, an aunt, a couple of friends, and then finally her husband Jeff Smith, who was murdered in the driveway of their home and died in Amanda's arms on August 16, 2012.

In the wake of her husband's murder, Amanda became suicidal. In November she was pulled over by police and reportedly became irate, eventually leading them on a chase. She was in possession of a firearm and allegedly shot at officers during the chase. Authorities were not able to apprehend Amanda for some time, and she was named Santa Cruz County law enforcement's "most wanted" woman of the year.

Fearing for her daughter's safety, it was her mother that eventually gave police the tip that lead to Amanda's arrest, and she was booked into the main jail on multiple charges, including "discharging a firearm from a vehicle" and "reckless driving while evading a peace officer."

An article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel titled, "Mother of Soquel Hills widow Amanda Sloan grateful her daughter is safely in custody" shortly followed. In the article, Fox Sloan is quoted as stating she was glad her daughter was alive, considering the severity of the situation and the dangerous pursuit by law enforcement officers.

Amanda wound up being held in jail for eight months, but the Grand Jury report indicates the jail's staff was aware of warning signs that Amanda was in a state of intense despair near the end of her life.

"When Amanda was in jail she was told by fellow prisoners you will never see your daughter again," Fox Sloan said at the Cages Kill rally.

The Grand Jury report noted that three days before her death, Amanda was visited in jail by a friend who told her she would be losing custody of her children. According to the report Amanda, "became very upset and stormed out of the jail visiting area."

The report states that on July 16, the day before her death, officers in the jail say that Amanda was “very agitated and uptight," but medical staff had also reported that she appeared "happy and unusually calm." Some staff members believed that she was a risk for suicide because of "drastic mood swings." She had been held in the ‘O’ Unit for "mental health observation," but jail staff reports indicate she was returned to the general jail population six weeks before committing suicide. The jail's staff claims they did not have the authority to keep Amanda in the ‘O’ Unit for "an extended period of time," and that she had the right to be returned to the general population if she indicated that "she was feeling better" and "showed an improved attitude."

According to the Grand Jury report, the Sheriff-Coroner’s Office determined the cause of death to be "intentional asphyxiation due to hanging" and they classified Amanda's death as a suicide.

Immediately following her death, officers say they found a large hole in the wall of her cell. The hole exposed an interior pipe, which authorities say was how a "handmade noose" was attached. They say the hole had been hidden from officers in the jail by a poster covering it. The authorities also say they found a hidden a meth pipe and a razor blade behind other posters in Amanda's cell.

The Grand Jury report cited two Corrections Bureau regulations regarding cell inspections that were not followed by the Santa Cruz Main Jail's staff while Amanda was incarcerated.

The report summarized the protocols that were violated as follows:

1. Safety checks should be conducted at least once an hour. Officers should observe the inmate through the cell window, making sure they see visible skin, and verify that the inmate is breathing. They should document their check using the pipe log.

2. Inmates are not allowed to place anything on the doors, windows, or walls of their cells.

The "pipe log" is an electronic method used by officers in the jail to keep track of when officers have performed safety checks.

The Grand Jury report found that records from the pipe log for the night of Amanda's death, July 16 to July 17, indicate that jail officers say they checked her cell at 10:21pm, 10:58pm, 12:14am, 2:28am, and 3:26am.

However, the video record for her unit shows that only the 10:21pm safety check had actually occurred. The Grand Jury report did not name the actual officers involved in these possibly fatal inconsistencies.

In addition to allowing the hole in the wall of Amanda's cell to exist, the jail's staff was found to have violated Correction Bureau protocol in a number of other ways. Authorities have also admitted Sloan's cell window was covered with a poster and her cell’s light switch cover, "had been removed and replaced with a poster."

Authorities say they found out Amanda was dead at 4:15am on July 17 when she did not show up to take her medication, and when they looked in on her they found her hanging in her cell.

Amanda was pronounced dead at 4:25am on July 17.

At the Cages Kill rally, Fox Sloan thanked the Grand Jury for the "incredible job they did" with the investigation.

"If it wasn't for them we wouldn't have this rally and this information to go on," she said, "but they only have the power to investigate, and to evaluate, and to report, but they don't have the power and the authority to stop it."

Sloan told the crowd at the Cages Kill rally that the jail's staff had tried to "suppress" and "keep hidden" the information the Grand Jury report had revealed.

"What do we do?" she asked community members and supporters.

"Oh! I got it," she said.

"By the grace and power of God, we the people are going to change it."

Sin Barras released the following demands in advance of the Cages Kill rally:

1. The Board of Supervisors cancel its contract with California Forensic Medical Group.

2. The Sheriff's Department and CFMG accept responsibility for the unnatural deaths and implement the Grand Jury recommendations to expand Crisis Intervention Team mental health services.

3. Solitary confinement/administrative segregation and other forms of torture, such as the "restraint chair," be abolished.

4. The County cancel the $24.6 million planned expansion of Rountree Detention Center and invest in community-based social services.

In addition to Sin Barras, other organizations participating in the Cages Kill rally included ACLU, All of Us or None, Cabrillo College Justice League, Food Not Bombs, Freedom Archives, Global Women’s Strike, Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF), Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, NAACP, Prison Activist Resource Center, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, Project: Pollinate, Queer Strike, Santa Cruz County Community Coalition to Overcome Racism (SCCCCOR), South Bay/Santa Cruz Facilitators group of the Pachamama Alliance, US PROStitutes Collective (US PROS), and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

Jessica Espinoza, niece of Arthur Deans.

Tash Nguyen and Courtney Hanson of Sin Barras speak.

Bato Talamantez of the San Quentin 6 speaks on Pacific Avenue.

Robert Norse of HUFF speaks at the Santa Cruz County Jail.

Willow Katz of Sin Barras speaks.

Lyrical I performs outside of the jail.

Noise demonstration.