Protesters arrested in 2019 suing Sonoma County, Westminster Woods



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Four people arrested during a 2019 protest at the Westminster Woods Camp and Conference Center, near Occidental, filed a lawsuit against Sonoma County, the camp and four individual parties on Monday under federal Human Rights law. rights, claiming that their treatment in the Sonoma County Jail amounted to torture.

“They have been deprived of food, water and sleep for most of that time,” Southern California lawyer Jerold Friedman, who represents the four plaintiffs, said Tuesday.

“One of them had a balaclava on his head, as they did in Abu Ghraib prison, with no penological aim. And a now female transgender protester had her clothes removed, and the jailers were laughing, saying, “I told you it was a man.”

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail, also deprived inmates of medication during their time in jail, which lasted from four to seven days, Friedman said.

The Sheriff’s Office, through Sgt. Juan Valencia, declined to comment on the trial.

The four plaintiffs in the civil case are Gwen Danielson, now 27, who was homeless at the time of her arrest; Emma Borhanian, 30, from Albany; Alexander Leatham, 24, residence unknown; and the transgender woman, originally from Berkeley and listed only under her male name in criminal and civil records.

Their arrest follows a protest in Westminster Woods which rocked councilors and guests alike. On November 15, 2019, the four blocked the exit to the wooded retreat with a box van, shuttle and Toyota Prius, and exited in black robes, gloves and anonymous-styled Guy Fawkes masks. Two of them carried walkie-talkies, one carried a body camera and another had pepper spray, according to the initial arrest report.

The situation worsened when a Westminster Woods employee reported that one of the protesters was armed.

“I can’t tell you the person’s state of mind when they called 9-1-1,” Friedman said. “But I can tell you my clients didn’t have a gun. They are not that kind of people. And no guns were found at the scene.

The defendants in the civil case, in addition to the county and the camp, arrest MP Joseph Ricks, Deputy Principal Daniel Ager, Westminster Woods Executive Director Christopher Rhodes and Olivia Longstaff, a naturalist teacher there.

“Christopher Rhodes or Olivia Longstaff wanted to interrupt and stop the protest, so they called the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department to falsely report that the plaintiffs had a gun,” the complaints read. “Hagar had the capacity to intervene in the arrest of each plaintiff but did not intervene in their arrest.”

He goes on to say that “During the arrest, Ricks touched (the transgender woman) inappropriately and sexually. (She) screamed loudly that she was being sexually assaulted.

Rhodes declined to comment.

The civil lawsuit against the county and the camp says the four were there that day “to protest the cover-up of pedophilia by one or more people in Westminster Woods”.

Friedman doubled down on the charge on Tuesday, saying, “My clients were trying to do the right thing. They were trying to protest the child molestation, and they end up in jail for four to seven days and tortured while they are there.

He declined to say whether he was accusing Westminster Woods workers of assaulting children or whether he was pointing the finger at the Berkeley-based Center for Applied Rationality, the organization that held a retreat in the camp and allegedly was the target of demonstrations. .

Along with the civil suit, the four protesters face charges of felony conspiracy and felony charges of forcible confinement, endangering children, resisting arrest, trespassing and carrying a mask while committing a crime.

A hearing date in the criminal case is set for Wednesday. This hearing was to resolve the issue of body camera footage collected by MPs in 2019. The sheriff’s office believes the footage is not subject to California law AB 748 because there was no issue of “bodily injury” serious or fatal “.

The defendants’ lawyers want him to go to court.

“The prosecution is trying to quash the subpoena for camera footage,” said Friedman, who does not represent anyone in the criminal proceedings. “It’s extremely unusual. These are body camera footage, of course it’s relevant.

He said Wednesday’s court date would likely be postponed as one of the lawyers involved will be on trial.

Friedman’s civil complaint is intentionally vague, he said. It does not include, for example, the pecuniary damages that it claims for its customers. He wants the criminal case to be settled before providing further details, he said, as he does not want to bow his hand to the parties he is suing.

On the day of the arrests in 2019, a group of children were participating in a ropes course in Westminster Woods. Sheriff’s deputies closed Bohemian Highway for several hours and sheltered the children in an armored police vehicle after being summoned. The authorities evacuated around 50 people in a school bus.

It was all overkill, Friedman insisted.

“In a democracy, we have the right to behave as we want,” he said. “We can dress however we want. We can be loud, we can make others uncomfortable. Everything is under freedom of expression. When there are allegations of a gun, it elevates everything. “

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or [email protected] On Twitter @Skinny_Post.

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