The latest outrage taking place in Sonoma County in the wake of the shooting of Andy Lopez by Deputy Gelhaus involves threats and humiliating treatment by Santa Rosa Plaza security officers who forced patrons, including women, to remove their shirts in public. According to a letter by Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez (JCAL) attorney Jonathan Melrod to mall management:
This is to inform you in your capacity as owners and operators of the Santa Rosa Plaza of an incident that occurred on February 17, 2014 (Presidents’ Day). On this Monday, uniformed security guards at Simon’s Santa Rosa Plaza perpetrated multiple acts on the Mall property in the upstairs Food Court that directly contravened your patrons’ First Amendment Rights to free and unfettered speech, as well as racially targeted and harassed Latino patrons. Such flagrant disregard for lawful rights and the treatment of Latino patrons as second-class citizens will not be tolerated by the Santa Rosa community.Earlier in the afternoon on Presidents’ Day, many Santa Rosa youth, known locally as Andys Youth, and others peacefully marched under the banner of Justice for Andy Lopez. For your edification, Andy Lopez was a 13-year-old Latino boy shot and killed by a Sonoma County Sheriffs Deputy on October 22, 2013. The march proceeded peacefully and without incident through downtown Santa Rosa and concluded with a rally in front of the Santa Rosa Police Department where many of the young people poignantly spoke about the heart-wrenching loss of their friend and peer Andy.Following the march, a number of the participants, including Andy’s parents Sujey and Rodrigo, visited the food court at the Santa Rosa Plaza to eat. At approximately 5:30pm, a contingent of Mall security guards approached the table at which Sujey, Rodrigo, their children and accompanying friends were eating. The security guards, who refused to provide their names, but who are on video in our possession, rudely and aggressively “instructed” the Lopez family and their friends to remove their t-shirts, which bore slogans such as “RIP Andy” and “Justice for Andy Lopez”. If they refused to remove their shirts, they were told that they had to leave the Mall.The security guards specifically targeted only Latino patrons wearing Andy t-shirts. In fact, just one half hour earlier a white activist had walked in the front door of the Mall directly in front of the very same security guards without so much as a second-glance. Under any interpretation, the demand that Latino patrons, as a target group, remove their shirts was discriminatory and effectively treated a particular ethnic group as second-class citizens with limited free speech rights. Further, the actions by the security guards were a direct affront to the publics’ constitutionally protected First Amendment Rights – particularly the sacrosanct right of free speech – ironic as this occurred on Presidents’ Day.
February 20, 2014
Mark A. Payne, Senior Associate General Counsel
By email: email@example.com
Dear Mr. Payne:
I have seen your response to Attorney Jonathan Melrod regarding the actions of security officers at the Santa Rosa Plaza. As a former seven-term chair of the board of the California Association of Licensed Investigators, I appreciate the difficulty of selecting competent security contractors and the further difficulty of keeping them in line with a client’s expectations.
Security officers guarding malls and other retail establishments should be trained to have at least a common sense understanding of their obligations under the Unruh Civil Rights Act as interpreted by the California Supreme Court in In Re Cox (1970) 3 C 3rd 205 and the implications of the subsequently passed Ralph and Bane civil rights acts in connection with that decision. As your letter to Mr. Melrod indicates that the actions in question were done by employees of a security contractor, I am requesting that you identify for me the name of the contracting firm and provide me with the company’s Private Patrol Operator (PPO) license.
It is my intention to report these serious violations by that company to the appropriate authorities at the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services.
Thanking you for your prompt attention, I remain,
Jan B. Tucker
State Director, California League of Latin American Citizens
The Bane, Ralph and Unruh Civil Rights Acts all provide for minimum civil penalties to the victims of such violations. The Bane and Ralph civil penalties are potentially $25,000 each for each violation against each defendant, so the victims are looking at not less than $50,000 each not counting damages or punitive damages that the law provides should a jury find the security guards guilty.