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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
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New Shot for Anarchists to Contest Warrant Issue

(CN) - Los Angeles police officers who broke up an anarchist fundraising event in pursuit of a beer thief must face claims about their lack of warrant, the Ninth Circuit ruled.

Friday's reversal comes over seven years after activists threw a warehouse benefit concert and art exhibit in November 2008 to raise money for the upcoming Los Angeles Anarchist Book Fair.

That afternoon, police dispatch relayed a call that "six male Hispanic juveniles wearing rocker-type clothing" had stolen beer from a convenience store.

About a mile from the store, LAPD Officers Johnny Cervantes and Nicholas Cho saw people dressed in similar garb walking toward the warehouse.

The officers concluded that Javier Cortez matched the general description of the theft suspects," but Cortez refused to let them into the warehouse without a warrant.

They say they waited outside for backup after Cortez motioned toward them in an "aggressive manner."

The officers then burst through the locked door to the warehouse and began lining attendees up outside against a chain-link fence, patting down the concertgoers and creating a makeshift lineup for a witness from the convenience store.

Donald Cook, an attorney for the activists, said in an interview that the cops "had no reason to think any of these people matched their subject description."

Even though the officers had been searching for Hispanic male suspects, Cook said they engaged in a "wholesale roundup" of various attendees, including women and one wheelchair-bound black man.

Officers arrested one eventgoer whom the witness picked out of the lineup for theft, but Cortez and several others were arrested for disturbing the peace.

Eight fundraiser participants filed a federal complaint, but the court dispatched with many allegations at summary judgment, and a jury ruled for the city and the officers on the remaining claims that went to trial.

On Friday, the Ninth Circuit reversed only as to the claims over the warrantless entry, which the lower court had thrown out at summary judgment.

"After Cortez impeded Officers Cho and Cervantes at the warehouse door and objected to their presence, the officers' entry into the warehouse was trespassory," Judge Jay Bybee wrote for a three-person panel.

Though the LA city attorneys had contended that exigency justified the warrantless entry, the Pasadena-based federal appeals court noted that petty theft is not an "inherently dangerous" crime.

It is up to a jury to decide whether the police entry violated Cortez and Lopez's rights, according to ruling.

Siding with the city on the other claims, however, the appeals court found that there was "no reasonable expectation of privacy" at the benefit concert.

"When police trespass on property to carry out a search, a defendant has standing to raise the Fourth Amendment only if it was his person, house, paper or effect searched," Bybee wrote.

As to Cortez's claim about his disturbing-the-peace conviction, the panel noted that he failed to appeal that issue directly.

"We are not an alternative forum for challenging his conviction," the decision states.

Unhappy with the reversal's limitations, plaintiff attorney Cook said in an interview that "the cops ran roughshod over peoples' rights" at the warehouse.

"The notion that courts bend over backwards to protect rights [is] a joke," Cook said.

"They saw the people [at the event] as being politically powerless," the attorney added. "If this had been a Republican fundraiser, this never would have happened."

Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Lisa Berger argued for the city. Her office did not return a call seeking comment, nor did Rob Wilcox, the director of community outreach and engagement.

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department has not returned an email seeking comment.

Judge Carlos Bea concurred in the decision, as did U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote.

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