San Diego police arrested four Occupy protesters on felony charges after they interrupted Mayor Jerry Sanders’ final State of the City address Wednesday night.
Disturbing a public assembly — such as a City Council meeting or Sanders’ annual speech — normally spurs only a misdemeanor charge. But in this case, police added a felony charge of conspiracy to commit a crime for each person.
I called Asst. Police Chief Boyd Long and asked why police added the felony charges. He wouldn’t go into too much detail, but said it was clear the group had planned to interrupt the mayor’s speech.
Long said police had warned the protesters before they entered Balboa Theatre about interrupting the meeting. Capt. Mark Jones “kind of pleaded with them,” Long said. “He said we have a free speech area outside.”
The protesters stayed inside and began chanting “mic check” at the start of Sanders’ speech. Long said police demanded the protesters stop chanting and most did. But four wouldn’t stop, he said, so police arrested them.
(Our editor and CEO were sitting directly behind the protesters, however, and said they never heard police tell the protesters to stop. Police simply moved into arrest the protesters, they said. Some protesters did stop chanting once police moved in the group’s direction and those who did weren’t arrested.)
Police arrested Alberto Ordonez, 27; Christopher McKay, 44; Tahra Ludwig, 37; and Michael Garcia, 48. Long said Ludwig started the group’s chant.
Long said the police kicked in the felony charges because the four protesters had identical scripts of the chant. He said the group had also made comments in an elevator with police “indicating they had all conspired before going to the meeting.”
Long declined to elaborate, saying the case is still pending.
With the conspiracy charge, each protesters’ bail increased by $10,000 from $500. With a misdemeanor, the arrested faced up to one year in jail. Now, with the felony, they face up to two years.
Steve Walker, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office, said all four had posted bail by Thursday afternoon. He said his office, which normally reviews felony criminal cases, will also likely review the arrests but hasn’t yet received any information about them from police.
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