My official statement regarding my false arrest for petitioning at Mother’s Market


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(Our original story)

Please help spread the word about this incident. This issue affects all of us, and all of our rights.

I have been asked to make a statement about my arrest.  Rather than focus on myself, I would prefer to focus on the matter at hand—namely, the right to petition our government and the qualification of the issue at hand. But background facts will be necessary for this statement.

For those who wish to know why I am so passionate about this issue, a statement from my husband can be read here.

Last Friday, I was arrested while circulating a medical marijuana petition in front of Mother’s Market on 19th st. in Costa Mesa. (714-549-6400 email: customerservice@mothersmarket.com)

In my opinion this was an unlawful arrest because I was in an area that had been designated as a free speech area. This is an area where there were community billboards on multiple occasions that included political flyers and also a store where petitions have been circulated in the recent past with their blessings.  It is my contention, for these reasons and more, that the store was attempting to squelch free speech based on the issue and that the Costa Mesa police department aided and abetted my unlawful arrest.

California criminal code states clearly that in the case of a misdemeanor, a citizen’s arrest can only be carried out if the citizen has actually witnessed a crime in their presence.

I contend that the police did not press charges of trespass themselves because they had sound reason to believe that I had a right to be petitioning at that location. My arrest is on video, including the fact that they were not pressing charges of trespass themselves, but were facilitating Mother’s Market in pressing those charges.

As a matter of fact, during every step of the proceedings, the officer who answered my pleas said “I am not the one responsible for this arrest.”

I also suspect that they failed to advise Mother’s Market of the severity of the crime they would be committing should they be found guilty of false arrest.

Furthermore, while the police are required to accept a LAWFUL citizen’s arrest, what they do with the arrestee following the arrest is a matter of their discretion. I suspect that because the arresting officer had told me the day before (on camera) that any legal actions arising as a result of the arrest would be the responsibility of the arresting citizen (namely the manager of Mother’s Market) that they felt they could “have a field day with me” and face no consequences for their actions. Their advice to the fact that they would not be responsible for their actions came from the city attorney, Tom Duarte.

Rather than merely citing me, and releasing me with a court date to resolve the dispute, the police chose to book me to the maximum security jail in Santa Ana where I was forced to strip naked in front of a guard, denied asthma medication which I had on my person at the time of my arrest thus endangering my life, denied my phone calls to arrange my release with bail, and forced to endure cold with very little clothing for several hours while being subjected to extreme verbal and mental abuse.  Some of the abusive statements were actually threatening, including “maybe you should leave town and not come back,” and “what petition were you working on? Well maybe that is why you are in here.” This is a mere snippet of the abuse and intimidation that I was subjected to once the cameras were not there to protect me. This abuse continued for more than 20 hours before my eventual release, several hours after my bail was posted.

Again, no actions can be excused regardless of perceived letter of the law. This was a false arrest.

Let me state for the record that I have absolutely no criminal record, nor have I ever been in prison. In fact, I am an active member of the community, recent graduate from UCI, journalist, and former political candidate.  Hardly a hardened criminal.

So what led to this extremely intimidating behavior? I believe the city’s and store’s actions are an effort to squelch our free speech rights based on the issue—medical marijuana– even to the breaking of law and violation of other constitutional rights.

This suspicion is further supported by the fact that this city asked for the feds to come to Costa Mesa and raid collectives. Prop 215 states that it is a violation of law to involve the federal government in these matters.  It would appear that they chose those who were most politically active to be the target of those federal raids. It is also possible that they flagrantly violated the Brown Act when they initiated these proceedings during a closed session.

I am not the only petitioner who has been arrested during this campaign. One of my colleagues was arrested while circulating this petition as well and had his car towed.

I have also heard many say that Mother’s is private property and that I should have just left. This is not the case in California, and it is not the merely the Pruneyard decision that gives me the right to petition at a private property that welcomes the public, it is our state constitution.  I have been working at other areas, but the demographics of the rest of the city do not produce a volume of signatures adequate to qualify the issue in time. I was getting 5 stops an hour at other locations and about ten signatures an hour by district walking during evening hours.  I have video of myself getting more than 20 stops in 40 minutes at Mother’s.

We face the problem of an ever shrinking area to petition the public, and this limits our ability to facilitate the process of direct democracy in California, which is our last resort to deal with a legislature and local government that no longer caters to the needs of the general public, but instead panders to special interest and big money.

I made several pleas to the city attorney to demand help with access, including the fact that I was allowed to petition on private property. My pleas were met with the argument that Mother’s was a private property and that I would be arrested if I did not leave. It was clear to me that he had not read my grievance. My unlawful arrest came after more than a week’s delay on a petition with only 6 weeks left to qualify and many requests for reasonable action.

Let me be clear that this issue applies to ALL FREE SPEECH ACTIVITIES, not just medical marijuana rights, so your rights are at risk as well whether you care about medical marijuana or not.

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Now for the important matter at hand. The real issue is right to petition. Should any city government be able to show even the appearance of interfering with a petition that would directly affect them?

This issue needs to qualify if for no other reason than the government needs to be shown that our first amendment rights cannot be suppressed by even the slightest interference and especially not by heavy handed and dangerous tactics such as these.

I am asking for your help. I am not asking for donations for myself or my legal fees. This is something that I can handle. I am a big girl.  I am asking for help to qualify this initiative so that we can show the city that “we the people” are in charge. We have a mere 20 days left to accomplish this goal.

There are several ways you can help.

1)      Call the city and tell them that the community is watching their actions closely for the remainder of this drive.

(714) 754-5000

2)      Volunteer to gather signatures. In fact, the proponents of this issue have offered to pay all volunteers $3 per valid signature to get this issue on the ballot because they recognize that so many people are struggling financially and can barely afford to pay their own bills, let alone give away their valuable free time. That should make it worth your time if nothing else. You can reach me by my Facebook page or by email at votedebbie@yahoo.com.  You can also contact www.bythepeopleproject.com

3)      Donate to the initiative’s PAC at www.bythepeopleproject.com so that they can afford to pay the expenses of qualifying this issue with such short time and so many hurdles. Any amount, even one dollar, will help.

And one more very important matter. I believe that positive reinforcement is every bit as effective, in not more so, than negative. Stater Brothers on Harbor Blvd. has rolled out the welcome mat for this petition because they respect free speech and our right to petition our government. We have garnered many signatures from this location thanks to concerned citizens such as your selves. Please thank them for supporting the initiative process in our city.

Sincerely,

Debbie Tharp


About Debbie Tharp