LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — City Hall gadflies who like to antagonize elected officials and often get kicked out as a result could soon face misdemeanor charges for trespassing after the Los Angeles City Council passed a motion Wednesday to make such disruptions a criminal offense.
The motion, which directs the city attorney’s office to draft an ordinance, would have speakers arrested or cited for trespassing if they disrupt the meeting and refuse to leave. Under California law, such a citation can be typically charged as a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
“Oftentimes we have a lot of disruptions during the meetings where we have to remove particular speakers. These are the same people over and over that come in each and every day, in every committee meeting, to disrupt the meeting in the same form and fashion,” City Councilman Mitchell Englander said.
“Lately, what they have done is continue to disrupt the meeting by yelling in from the hallway and so we need a way to be safe and secure, and so that the people that are here are safe and secure, and we can do the people’s business,” he added. “It’s not an ‘or,’ it’s an ‘and.'”
There are a handful of speakers at City Hall meetings who are often kicked out for making noises in the audience, waiving their hands or refusing to stop talking once their allotted time is up, and someone being removed from a council meeting is a regular and routine occurrence.
Some of these same speakers also use profane language and obscene gestures or racially offensive costumes during their speaking time.
The motion is just the latest in an ongoing conflict the council has had with public speakers who push the boundaries of decorum. The conflicts often lead to bizarre interactions in which a council member in the middle of a serious conversation about city issues must pause to admonish a member of the audience to stop playing with a puppet or to stop making animal noises.
An Encino lawyer, Wayne Spindler, was arrested last year after he submitted a comment card with KKK imagery and a racial slur on it that Council President Herb Wesson said he took as a threat, although the district attorney declined to charge Spindler. Spindler later filed a federal lawsuit against the city over the incident.
Spindler was also charged last week by the Los Angeles City Attorney for illegal possession of a firearm. Wesson sought and received a restraining order against Spindler, and as a result of the order, Spindler had to turn in all his firearms to the police department. Among the weapons was an unregistered and illegal AK-47 assault rifle, according to the city attorney’s office.
Another frequent guest speaker who is often ejected from meetings, Armondo Herman, who brought a box cutter to a Public Safety Committee hearing last year, although he was not arrested when police discovered it. He was ejected after he refused to stop dancing in the aisles while holding a doll adorned in a Ku Klux Klan outfit.
A man in 2014 received a $215,000 legal settlement with the city after being ejected from a meeting for wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood. Councilman Mitch O’Farrell also last year secured a temporary restraining order against the man, Michael Hunt, but a permanent restraining order was denied by a judge, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)