Letter of Complaint to Anaheim Police Chief Roger Baker re: Unitarian Church (02/01/03)

by Duane Roberts Sunday, Feb. 02, 2003 at 7:15 PM

Did Anaheim Police truly believe a small benefit show was going to attract hundreds of wild teenagers armed with Molotov cocktails who were plotting to march up Harbor Blvd. toward Disneyland and burn the Magic Kingdom to the ground?


Saturday, February, 1, 2003

Roger Baker, Chief
Anaheim Police Department
425 S. Harbor Blvd.
Anaheim, CA 92803

Re: Letter of complaint regarding behavior of Anaheim Police at Unitarian Churchof Orange County on the evening of Saturday, January 25, 2003.

Dear Chief Baker:

This letter of complaint is being submitted in response to the small platoon of Anaheim Police that were deployed to spy and harass a peaceful and nonviolent benefit show that occurred on the grounds of the Unitarian Church of Orange County at 511 S. Harbor Blvd. on the evening of Saturday, January 25, 2003. I’m writing it to express my disappointment in the way Anaheim Police treated the crowd that assembled that night because a majority of the persons in attendance had been to the Unitarian Church many times before for various reasons and had never been subjected to this kind of scrutiny, harassment, and intimidation.

Regardless of whether or not the church was legally permitted to use its grounds in the manner that it did under the existing municipal code, it is the opinion of myself and many others that Anaheim Police response to the event was completely disproportionate to the actual threat it posed to the surrounding neighborhoods (which was nonexistent). I feel what transpired was the result of gross overreaction to information received from intelligence sources whose credibility and accuracy is questionable and poor judgement exercised by those who harbor prejudicial and stereotypical views of people who espouse unpopular political opinions.


As you may already know, the event in question was a small benefit show that was organized under the auspices of a not-for-profit entity called the Los Angeles Anarchist Black Cross Federation, a group formed for the purpose of offering moral, legal, and financial support to political prisoners. The organizers of the event originally estimated that less than 100 people were going to show up that Saturday night and they were planning on asking all those who attend to give a donation of between $5 and $10. (however nobody would have been turned away for lack
of funds) Although some bands were invited to play (at no charge), the event itself consisted primarily of persons delivering speeches, poetry reading, a light rap performance, and tables set up in the parking lot to disseminate books, videotapes, and literature of an explicitly political nature.


Last December, the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Church unanimously voted to delegate me with the responsibility of being present throughout the entire benefit show to ensure that the rules they’ve established for use of church grounds by outside groups and organizations be strictly enforced. Some of my basic duties were to ensure that nobody be allowed to sell or consume illegal drugs or alcoholic beverages and that no activities take place that may be injurious to others or pose a threat to the Unitarian Church itself or any of the adjacent properties.

When I learned that Anaheim Police pressured some Trustees to cancel the event, I prodded them to reconsider the decision because there were serious questions about whether or not this action was lawful given that it trampled upon constitutionally protected rights of free speech and assembly. In addition to this, I found it laughable for anyone to believe that "mass property destruction" was going to occur since I knew that a majority of the people planning to attend were persons who had been to the Unitarian Church many times before for various reasons.

Before the decision was made to reschedule the benefit show, a delegation of six people went to Anaheim Police headquarters on Saturday afternoon and met with a young cadet in the lobby to discuss our plans to do this provided that we make some modifications to what was originally proposed. Although all of us requested to speak directly with a "Community Service Officer", the cadet went into a backroom and talked with someone whom he would identify as being a "Sergeant". The cadet told us that the "Sergeant" he spoke with didn’t have any problems with our proposal providing that we kept the event drug and alcohol free and didn’t disturb anyone else in the surrounding community. He told us that a "Sergeant Geary" would be dealing with this matter when he came on shift at around 6:00 P.M. and that he most likely would contact us about that time (I gave the cadet my name and home phone number and instructed him to pass it on to him)

At around 5:15 P.M, an event organizer and myself met with an Anaheim Police Sergeant (whose last name I recall started with an "M") who got out of a police car that he drove up along the curb on the North side of the Unitarian Church building. We both had a casual and friendly discussion with him about how the benefit show would proceed and I personally told him that if any police officers had any problems that they could come to me. He observed that since I was wearing a bright yellow hat, it wouldn’t be too difficult for anyone to identify who I was. Shortly before the conversation ended, this Sergeant told us that everything we told him sounded good to him and he left us with the impression that everything was going to be O.K.


In conversations I’ve had with several Trustees who spoke with Anaheim Police about the event prior to Saturday, it was alleged that persons representing the latter had claimed that "hundreds of people" were going to show up that Saturday night and all the bands involved "were known to be linked to property destruction". It was further alleged that the Unitarian Church itself not only would end up suffering from "property destruction" if it hosted the event, but that it legally culpable for the "enormous amounts of property destruction" that would occur in the surrounding neighborhoods. These comments have led me to believe that Anaheim Police truly believed this small benefit show was going to attract hundreds of wild teenagers armed with Molotov cocktails who were plotting to march up Harbor Blvd. toward Disneyland and burn the Magic Kingdom to the ground.

Whatever the case may be, this sheer lunacy and hysteria caused the Anaheim Police to deploy a
ridiculous number of police officers whose time and energy would have been better spent patrolling the streets of our community keeping local residents safe from robbers, rapists, murderers, and thieves. Thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds were wasted to pay for a small platoon of Anaheim Police to basically baby-sit people who had been to the Unitarian Church many times before and had never once engaged in any kind of "property destruction" on church grounds or the surrounding neighborhoods. In addition to this, the intense scrutiny, harassment, and intimidation of the crowd that peaceably assembled has caused an enormous amount of ill will and animosity toward Anaheim Police and is deeply tarnishing its reputation throughout the Southern California area.


I feel it was highly inappropriate for Anaheim Police to deploy about a dozen officers in the parking lot of Benjamin Franklin Elementary School not only because it unnecessarily escalated the level of tension among persons attending the benefit show, but the action itself was perceived as being an attempt to discourage people from exercising their constitutional right to free speech and assembly. In addition to this, bringing along a K-9 unit with German Shepherds within earshot of us was viewed as being nothing more than attempt by Anaheim Police to provoke and harass the crowd with the intent of creating a violent incident that would justify their actions to shutdown the event. Given that the headquarters of the Anaheim Police Department are directly across the street, there was absolutely no reason why these officers couldn’t have been deployed there or in the parking lot of the Anaheim Public Library.

It was also wrong for Sergeant Geary to bring about a dozen officers on the property of the Unitarian Church and line them up against the wall in a brazen show of force shortly after we were complying with the order given by a Code Enforcement Officer to shut off the music being played. Although Sergeant Geary later told me that he felt his life was in danger, I took action to ensure that a small crowd that assembled nearby watching what was going on wouldn’t move too close to him. If anything, this tactic completely backfired because it motivated everybody to walk across the street to Anaheim Police headquarters to obtain what
forms they needed to file complaints against him and other officers present. Most people deeply resented the manner by which Sergeant Geary was handling the situation and they decided that they were not going to tolerate being treated as "second-class citizens" by him or his "boys".


Sergeant Geary not only treated me and everybody else who was there in very hostile and condescending manner, but he actually tried to physically intimidate me in one instance by moving aggressively in my direction. (this was witnessed by an OC WEEKLY reporter and others) It was so difficult for any of us to deal with Sergeant Geary that another church member was forced to contact an Anaheim Police Captain he personally knew via cellphone in an attempt to prod him to treat us in a more civil manner. It was only after about 70 people marched to Anaheim Police headquarters to request complaint forms did Sergeant Geary begin to deal with me with some degree of respect.

Despite my profound dislike for Sergeant Geary’s hostile demeanor, I continued in my attempts to talk to him throughout the entire evening because I felt that a complete breakdown in communication between he and I could have led to disastrous consequences. Although I knew that nobody in the crowd was going to engage in any kind of violent or unruly behavior, I realized that Sergeant Geary had a completely different perspective of what was going on based upon
the false information that somebody fed to him about the event.


In my opinion, what happened at the Unitarian Church of Orange County on the evening of Saturday, January 25, 2003 represents an enormous failure by the Anaheim Police Department to adequately ascertain the reliability and credibility of intelligence information it received on the nature of the event being held that night. In addition to this, it also reflects the prejudicial and stereotypical views that elements inside the Anaheim Police have towards those persons who espouse political views and opinions that are considered outside the mainstream of American culture. This formula created a completely distorted view of the event in the minds of Anaheim Police causing them to grossly overreact and deploy absurd numbers of officers to protect the community from a "threat" that wasn’t even real.

However, what is real is that the civil liberties of people whose only purpose that night was to gather together in a peaceful manner to exercise their constitutionally protected rights of free speech and assembly were brutally trampled upon. And the enormous amount of ill will and animosity that has been generated as a consequence of this incident is now something that the Anaheim Police Department has to deal with.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me at (XXX) XXX-XXXX should you or anyone else wish to discuss this matter with me any further.


D U A N E J . R O B E R T S

Duane J. Roberts

BA degree, Criminology, Law, and Society
University of California, Irvine.

Anaheim, California

cc: Mayor Curt Pringle

Councilman Richard Chavez

Councilman Tom Tait

Councilman Richard Hernandez

Councilwoman Shirley McCracken