A criminal court case stemming from the infamous hyper-militarized police response to protests in Anaheim on July 29, 2012 ended earlier this month on October 4th with all charges dismissed. Richard Brown, who the Weekly reported as affiliated with Occupy LA, was present with other activists that day walking en route to a vigil for Manuel Angel Diaz on Anna Drive where the 25 year-old was killed in a controversial officer-involved shooting the weekend before.
An equestrian unit was present as Brown approached the corner of Anaheim Blvd. and Broadway near City Hall. The activist posed on the sidewalk in front of them with an emblematic protest sign showing an illustration of Mickey Mouse that read “Hey Kids! Check out my military police!” Soon after, officers inexplicably moved in and made an arrest. He faced three resulting misdemeanor charges for harassing or interfering with a police horse and resisting arrest that ultimately did not stick.
The jury trial played out before the courtroom of Orange County Superior Court judge Julian Bailey, a Governor Jerry Brown appointee. Richard Brown was able to retain the services of David Haas, an attorney who has been involved in similar cases involving activists and OC police departments in the past.
“When we brought the motion for acquittal, the judge agreed that one of the two counts involving the police horse should be dismissed,” Haas tells the Weekly. “The jury acquitted him on the count involving the police horse and then hung 9-3 for not guilty on resisting arrest. But ultimately, that couldn't have stood anyway. You can't resist an unlawful arrest.”
The encounter involving Brown and the police was caught on camera (including in the above video) and numerous pictures were snapped by people in the crowd. Law enforcement's actions were filmed and it proved to be pivotal. “It was a major component of the trial,” Haas says. “The jury was able to see the short encounter that the police claimed took place between Mr. Brown and the horse and also the part that involved his so-called resisting arrest.”
The multi-agency police presence in Anaheim following the downtown riots on July 24, 2012 was roundly criticized, with detractors saying it held a chilling effect on those who, like Brown, weren't breaking the law but attempting to exercise their first amendment rights. Demonstrators numbered only about a few hundred that day.
“I think it speaks to the whole phenomenon of the perspective that law enforcement has on the exercise of first amendment rights,” Haas says of his client's case. “The force that they brought and the way that they encountered Mr. Brown and the other people that were walking to a vigil was really over the top.”
The charges were dismissed, but the question of how demonstrations in Anaheim will be approached by law enforcement in the future remains to be seen.
“Will they respond by expressing their support and sensitivity to first amendment rights or will they essentially perceive it as disorderly conduct and act against it as criminal conduct?”
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz