San Marino police, activist continue tussle

Woman's lawyer says anti-protest law may not be constitutional.

  • San Marino police officers protect the home of Wells Fargo Bank Chief Financial Officer Tim Sloan while Ana Marie Casas refuses to move 75 feet away from the home during a demonstration.
San Marino police officers protect the home of Wells Fargo Bank Chief Financial… (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Staff…)
September 15, 2012|By Joe Piasecki, joe.piasecki@latimes.com

A disabled woman arrested during an Occupy-style protest outside a bank executive's house this spring may yet face criminal penalties, but not under a city ordinance intended to discourage such demonstrations.

Ana Marie Casas, 49, was one of 80 protesters who picketed the home of Wells Fargo Bank Chief Financial Officer Tim Sloan on April 26. Casas said she hoped to stop foreclosure on her South Gate home of 27 years by delivering a payment refused by the bank directly to Sloan.

She and other demonstrators were also testing a city law barring gatherings within 150 feet of a target's home or within 75 feet of the curb in front of the home — a law enacted following an Oct. 5 Occupy-style demonstration in front of Sloan's house.

Casas, who is confined to a wheelchair, refused police orders to leave Sloan's property. Although originally arrested for violating San Marino's new ordinance as well as other laws, prosecutors charged her only with misdemeanor trespassing and failure to disperse.

San Marino City Atty. Steve Dorsey and Police Chief Tim Harrigan said the Los Angeles County district attorney's office decided which charges to file.

D.A.'s office spokeswoman Jane Robison said the agency “filed what we felt was appropriate.”

Jim Lafferty, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild in Los Angeles, a free speech advocacy group, said he believes San Marino's clampdown on residential protests may not pass constitutional muster.

“[Prosecutors] probably don't want this challenged in court,” Lafferty said. “The Constitution follows us all home, even if we're rich.”

Geoff Pope, an attorney for Casas, claims San Marino police reports falsely attributed potentially damaging statements to Casas.

A report by Officer Vince Wilson states that Casas told police that “if she wasn't arrested and left at the location alone, she would do damage to the front flower pots and front door of the property and we shouldn't underestimate her.”

According to a supplemental report by Cpl. Tim Tebbetts, who rode with Casas to the police station, Casas stated, “I didn't want to say anything out there, but I'm a paid activist.”

The demonstration at Sloan's house was organized by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and members of the Service Employees International Union.

ACCE organizer Peter Kuhns, who on Wednesday helped lead a protest against Fannie Mae in Pasadena, said Casas was not compensated.

“Not only does [Casas] not get paid, she actually pays dues to be part of this organization,” he said.

Harrigan said that he dealt with Casas during the protest, and that Pope's claim of falsified reports is unfounded.

“I personally advised her three separate times that if she did not move off the property she was subject to arrest for trespassing. She said ‘I don't care. I want to be arrested. I'm not moving,'” Harrigan said.

In a Thursday hearing at the Alhambra Courthouse, L.A. Superior Court Judge Carol Williams Elswick denied a petition by Pope to review personnel files of the arresting officers to support his bid to challenge those reports.

Separately, San Marino City Council members voted Wednesday to pass an additional ordinance curbing protests directed at residents. The law gives city officials the power to direct demonstrations to the grassy median areas along Huntington Drive or to public sidewalks away from a target's home.

The ordinance is based on a Long Beach law crafted in response to raucous anti-abortion protests, according to the attorney who drafted it for San Marino, Peter Thorson. Thorson said the Long Beach law withstood a constitutional challenge in federal court.

San Marino City Manager John Schaefer told council members he doubted San Marino would soon face more protests in residential neighborhoods but said the ordinances would help the city stay prepared.

“I kind of think the Occupy thing is dying out,” he said. “But this does give staff a tool if there's a next generation of this sort of thing.”

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