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from Redwood Curtain CopWatch. Redwood Curtain CopWatch can be reached at (707) 633-4493 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is a link to the PDF of this letter: https://app.box.com/s/rx8wt8ojag05auenyxkf
November 29, 2013
RE: Harassment By Eureka Sergeant Rodrigo Reyna-Sanchez
Open Letter To Eureka Police Chief Mills,
It has come to our attention that on or about Wednesday, November 27, 2013- one day before Thanksgiving- Mr. Shannon Hodgdson was unfairly targeted and told to “get out of town” by Eureka Police Sergeant Rodrigo Reyna-Sanchez. Mr. Hodgdson was on the corner of V and 5th Streets in Eureka, holding a sign (asking for help), which is constitutionally protected activity.1 Officer Sanchez drove up in his patrol car and told Mr. Hodgdson that he better get off that corner and he’d better get out of town. This is wholly inappropriate behavior. The intended and actual intimidation and the inherent threat in Officer Sanchez’ actions is not only unprofessional, inappropriate, and unethical, it is also unlawful. Officer Sanchez violates a person’s civil rights by seriously discouraging their exercise of Constitutional rights. The blatant and serious discouragement of Mr. Hodgdson’s exercise of his rights by Officer Sanchez, or any officer, must cease. Mr. Hodgdson was not breaking any laws or blocking any passage, nor was his first amendment expression triggering any lawful restrictions by the government. As you must know, the government is prohibited from controlling or restricting the content of a person’s speech, except in very rare instances, and cannot impede a person’s right to travel or simply exist in a public space. This was not a rare instance wherein government may restrict a person’s expression, and Officer Sanchez has no authority to “order” or intimidate Mr. Hodgdson “out of town.” While Mr. Hodgdson was behaving lawfully, Officer Sanchez was not.
Mr. Hodgdson observed another Eureka Officer in the vehicle, who did nothing to stop Officer Sanchez from threatening Mr. Hodgdson and chilling the exercise of his rights. While we are disappointed that another Eureka police officer would not fulfill his mandate to stop misconduct and/or civil rights violations by another officer in his presence, we are not surprised. The Eureka Police Department (EPD) has a history of covering up, and even encouraging, disregard for peoples’ rights, abuse and crimes against vulnerable people with little means to challenge them, routine civil rights violations, cruelty, and gratuitous physical and verbal violence by its officers. Officer Sanchez is one of the primary perpetrators of such depravity and violative behavior against the people of Eureka. If the other officer, a complicit witness to Officer Sanchez’ unlawful actions, had been you, we would hope that you’d have intervened on behalf of Mr. Hodgdson’s civil rights.
Unfortunately, threatening a person who is simply holding a non-commercial sign on public property is a common practice of Officer Sanchez. We ask that you hold this officer accountable by, at a minimum, commanding him to stop such abusive behavior.
We are seriously concerned for Mr. Hodgdson’s safety, given the inherent threat made by Officer Sanchez against him and Mr. Hodgdson’s vulnerability as a houseless Eureka resident. Officer Sanchez should be admonished from telling anyone that they must leave town, something that we know he has also told other people. Evidently, Officer Sanchez believes that he has the authority to tell people that they are “better off dead,” that “no one will miss you if I shoot you in the back of the head” (true quotes), and that they cannot be on public property. This abusive conduct by Sanchez is often witnessed and even emulated by the officers around him. Throughout our years of observing Officer Sanchez and documenting hundreds of experiences by members of the public involving this officer, we understand that he not only feels emboldened to intimidate and hurt people, but he seeks applause and glorification for his bullying behavior. By any civilized standard of decency and community protection, Officer Sanchez’ attitude and record of abuse should be, at a minimum, grounds for his removal from the EPD and for a ban on him owning or carrying weapons.
We do not want Mr. Hodgdson harmed or again threatened by Sanchez. This letter should serve as an heads-up in the event that Mr. Hodgdson disappears, is arrested on dubious charges, or is found seriously injured, we will have every reason to suspect Officer Sanchez (or someone acting on behalf of him, EPD, or other local “law enforcement.”) That being said, we much prefer that you (and each entity to which this letter is going) protect Mr. Hodgdson and all similarly situated residents against any further abuse, threats, and/or violence from Officer Sanchez and other EPD officers. Mr. Hodgdson does not intend to leave town and should not be intimidated from exercising his basic constitutional rights.
Please be sure that your officers know that retaliation for this letter (or any other complaint) is not only illegal, but also unacceptable in your department.
Given that this county’s poverty level is highest in the state, we hope that you begin your tenure as Chief of Police making clear to your officers that harassing poor people is unacceptable on your watch.
Redwood Curtain CopWatch
cc: Eureka City Council Eureka City Attorney, Cyndy Day-Wilson Eureka City Clerk, Pamela Powell Civil Liberties Monitoring Project Civil Liberties Defense Center Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty District Attorney, Paul Gallegos Humboldt County Human Rights Commission Editor, North Coast Journal Editor, Times-Standard Editor, Greenfuse Publication Tracy Rain, Attorney at Law Peter Martin, Attorney at Law
1 Mr. Hodgdson’s activity is protected by the U.S. and California Constitutions. Please see September 21, 2012 Humboldt County Superior Court Ruling/Order regarding the unconstitutionality of Arcata’s “aggressive panhandling” ordinance. http://www.scribd.com/doc/107095113/Arcata-s-panhandling-ordinance