By LB Indy staff
A civil rights lawsuit against the City of Laguna Beach is proceeding in federal court, where a man arrested while protesting white supremacy accuses police of ignoring his assailant and detaining him instead.
Samuel Gonzalez contends Laguna Beach police Cpl. Larry Bammer arrested him while he was engaged in “peaceful verbal protest” toward attendees of the America First Rally held at Main Beach on Aug. 20, 2017.
Lawyers for the city, however, say Gonzalez refused Bammer’s commands and was rightfully arrested because of it. They detailed their case in a report filed ahead of a Nov. 15 conference before U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton in Santa Ana. Staton vacated the meeting and instead scheduled a pre-trial conference for October 2020. She also ordered Gonzalez and the city to negotiate through a private mediator by Aug. 14.
The lawsuit is the last major legal fallout from a ruckus confrontation involving thousands of people who descended upon the city for a rally and counter-protest organized by Juan Cadavid, alias Johnny Benitez, a so-called alt-right activist who advertised the event as a way to honor victims of crimes committed by illegal immigrants.
The lawsuit calls Benitez “a well known and self described white supremacist” and says many rally participants prominently displayed Nazi symbols, including swastika tattoos. A Columbian immigrant, Cadavid has denied harboring racist sentiments or supporting white supremacy. City Attorney Phil Kohn noted the rally occurred eight days after a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when “anger around the country was spreading.”
According to Kohn’s report, police barricaded sidewalks to prevent cars from driving into the crowd “and being used as weapons,” and they planted undercover officers, bomb-sniffing dogs, cameras, medical rescue units and emergency response teams as part of an at least 300-officer operation “to guarantee the safety and free speech rights of the several thousand participants and observers.”
The rally attendees “were vastly outnumbered by the protestors,” Kohn said. Bammer arrested Gonzalez after Gonzalez didn’t comply with repeated commands to back up, then stopped walking as Bammer was escorting him out of the area, according to Kohn’s report.
“At one point, [Gonzalez’s] yarmulke fell off his head and Corporal Bammer stopped to pick it up and place it back on [Gonzalez’s] head,” according to the report. He was jailed for 14 hours.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office declined to charge Gonzalez with a crime, which Kohn attributed to prosecutors’ belief that removing him from the event “had accomplished the goal of avoiding a physical confrontation.”
However, Gonzalez’s lawyers, Gregory Peacock and James Segall-Gutierrez, say he didn’t touch or threaten anyone, nor did he encourage violence. Rather, according to their report, Gonzalez was filming a rally attendee when the attendee slapped a phone from Gonzalez’s hand. Bammer arrested Gonzalez immediately after and ignored the attendee “who battered Gonzalez,” according to the report.
Gonzalez posted the video on YouTube. In it, Gonzalez is arguing about racism with a rally attendee, telling him that some Latinos are self-hating and “have their own racist nationalistic issues.” “We need to get beyond that. I’m here to stand with everyone,” Gonzalez said.
He repeatedly said “then go home” as rally attendees chanted ”racists go home,” before a man approaches him and the camera falls to the ground.
Gonzalez is seeking damages exceeding $600,000 for violations of his First and Fourth amendment rights. He also accuses the city of failing to properly train police officers. Alias Barrio Boychik, Gonzalez describes himself on his website as “a community organizer, activist, historian and Jewish spiritual leader in the Los Angeles east side.”