The city has settled a civil lawsuit regarding the Occupy San Diego movement for $60,000. Former Congressional candidate Ray Lutz was arrested for trespassing at a table he set up to register voters. NBC 7 political reporter Gene Cubbison has details.
Unsettling echoes of the "Occupy San Diego" movement rattled City Hall on Tuesday.
They came during a City Council hearing on a legal settlement involving the arrest of a former congressional candidate.
The incident happened when the campout of Occupy activists on the Civic Center concourse was late into its second month, on Nov. 29, 2011.
Ray Lutz – a communications engineering executive who'd run against Congressman Duncan D. Hunter the year before – set up a table there to register new voters.
He soon wound up in handcuffs.
“We got five people registered,” Lutz recalled in an interview with NBC 7. “We had three more in line when they arrested me."
Given the turbulence of the demonstrations downtown at the time, Occupy San Diego had long since worn out its welcome on the Civic Center concourse -- especially among nearby merchants and office workers at both City Hall and the Civic Center Plaza office tower.
Police and the building’s private security guards were being “pro-active," making dozens of arrests.
They didn't cut Lutz any slack at his voter registration table -- busting and booking him for trespassing.
While the City Attorney's office declined to bring charges, Lutz filed a civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court.
And on Tuesday, two years after the incident, he came to City Hall and made his way to the 12th floor Council chamber, sitting a couple rows behind Police Chief Bill Lansdowne.
When discussion was allowed on a consent-agenda item regarding the city’s $60,000 settlement offer in the case – without an admission of municipal liability – Lutz took to the public speakers’ microphone to address the Council.
"I ask you to start a project to review all of these cases,” he said. “You're the body to do this. Frivolous, ridiculous arrests. Petty involvement with the police. Blocking a police officer. Setting something down on city property – a Christmas tree. An umbrella."
Occupy activists say police needlessly ran up seven-figure enforcements costs during the Occupation, which stretched into early 2012.
One issued a heated challenge to Councilmembers.
"When are you going to stand up to these people,” demanded Martha Sullivan, “and make sure people's rights are protected and the taxpayers aren't ripped off for all this money?"
Among several others who spoke in support of Lutz and the city’s settlement was Jeff Olson, whom a jury recently acquitted of charges stemming from his chalk-written protest messages outside local Bank of America branches.
“Ray Lutz deserves a medal,” Olson said. “He should not have been arrested. He should be commended for what he did. Voter registration is an important part of our democracy.”
The city attorney's office says prosecutors were "very selective" in bringing cases -- but that not all arrests were inappropriate.
"Our approach to it is to take it as we see it, to evaluate it as we see it, and do what is right based on the facts that are before us," Executive Asst. City Atty. Andrew Jones said from the Council dais, in response to the public testimony. "Our job is to look at the facts in a cold, calculated way -- as we are trained as attorneys -- to determine what we consider the best approach for that particular case."
Lutz hopes his settlement sends a message to City Hall and police headquarters, and prompts re-consideration of some of the arrests, with an eye to expunging them from the public record.
But he has his doubts: "I don't think the city is very good at learning anything. I'd like see maybe the people who were action-takers in this instance be charged. Take this out of their salary or their pension."
Lutz also will receive an undisclosed settlement from the Civic Center Plaza building's landlord and its security firm, for a lesser amount than the city's $60,000 figure.