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l : 31 December 2004 • 2:15AM -0500

[LAAMN] Daily Breeze article on Hermosa Beach police abuse lawsuit
by John Brown


    From the Thursday, December 30, 2004 Daily Breeze newspaper.
      Vons picketers file police harassment suit
      Hermosa Beach officers are the primary defendants. Nine plaintiffs claim loss of civil rights.
      By Matt Krasnowski
      Copley News Service

      Nine people who picketed a Hermosa Beach Vons store during the nearly five-month grocery workers strike and lockout have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit contending they were threatened and harassed by police.

      The lawsuit, which also alleges two picketers were falsely arrested and one was pushed to the ground at the Hermosa Beach police station, was filed late Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Seven members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 1442, a union official and a supporter of the strike were named plaintiffs in the suit.

      The cities of Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach and 14 police officers, mostly from the Hermosa Beach Police Department, are named as defendants. Hermosa Beach City Councilman J.R. Reviczky, City Manager Steve Burrell and Police Chief Michael Lavin also were named in the complaint.

      A claim, which made similar allegations, was filed earlier this year against Hermosa Beach and rejected, City Attorney Michael Jenkins said.

      The lawsuit stems from the activities of the picketers and police from Jan. 11 to March 1 at the Vons store at 715 Pier Ave. Pickets were set up outside Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons stores throughout Southern California from Oct. 11, 2003, until March 1 in a dispute largely over the cost of medical benefits.

      The lawsuit alleges the defendants "engaged in a common plan" to deprive the picketers of their free speech rights and pursuit of "fair labor conditions and standards."

      "Defendants angrily threatened the plaintiffs and other picketers with arrest for approaching to converse with patrons entering or exiting the store," the lawsuit states.

      It contends that officers made comments such as: "We are being very inconvenienced and you will have to pay for this"; "We do not allow this in our city and you are going to regret it"; and "Your butt is going to be mine."

      "We're not sure if this was anti-union but it was certainly anti-picketer," said lawyer Olu Orange, who filed the complaint on behalf of the plaintiffs.

      The lawsuit also alleges that on Jan. 18, several of the plaintiffs were "angrily and physically ejected" from the Hermosa Beach police station when they tried to file complaints against some store patrons and police. Some of the plaintiffs contend they were threatened with "chemical irritant sprays and projectile guns."

      The lawsuit states police arrested two of the picketers, James DeMaegt and Joshua Hon, while they were at the station but no criminal complaints were filed. Union member Jennifer Drake contends an officer pushed her to the ground and she required medical attention.

      "At no time did any of the (plaintiffs) break any laws," Orange said.

      DeMaegt, Hon and Drake each seek $1.5 million in compensatory damages, the suit states. The six other plaintiffs are asking for $1 million each in compensatory damages. The suit also seeks punitive and statutory damages.

      The lawsuit alleges five federal civil rights violations, including violating their First Amendment free speech protections. The suit also alleges seven state law violations, including assault, battery, false arrest and defamation.

      The lawsuit contends that Reviczky violated the plaintiffs' civil rights with comments he allegedly made. Reviczky is quoted as saying the picketers "chose to storm the Police Department and push through a bunch of our officers."

      The suit also alleges he said: "They're not suing Hermosa Beach. They're suing every citizen in this city. For all of you who didn't cross that picket line, this is the thanks you get."

      Attempts to contact Reviczky on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

      Jenkins said he had not seen the suit but it will be evaluated.

      "These claims had previously been denied by the city as being without merit and the city will do its due diligence and re-evaluate those claims now that a lawsuit has been filed," Jenkins said. "Until then the city will defend the litigation on the basis that its Police Department conducted itself properly and in accordance with the law."

      Manhattan Beach City Attorney Robert Wadden said he received a claim by the plaintiffs Tuesday but has not seen the lawsuit.

      A message left at the Redondo Beach City Attorney's Office was not returned Wednesday.

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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