Civil rights: Police may decide Pride attireAround the City Thursday, December 1st, 2011
San Diego resident William X. Walters, 30, has filed a federal civil rights claim against the San Diego Police Dept. after he was arrested for public nudity, a violation of Municipal Code 56.53, during the 2011 San Diego LGBT Pride festival held in July at Balboa Park.
Walters contends that police, with involvement and encouragement from Pride security personnel, violated his civil rights by “illegal and unlawful” detention, publically humiliating and arresting him.
According to the claim, Walters was attired in a gladiator-type leather kilt over black underwear.
“That fully met the provisions of the municipal code regarding nudity,” explained Walters’ attorney, Christopher S. Morris of local law firm, Aguirre, Morris and Severson in a statement first released to San Diego LGBT Weekly. “And (Walters) had been properly admitted to the event and to the beer garden within the event area.”
Morris believes the fact that Pride employees deemed his client’s leather-and-chrome outfit to be acceptable enough for the event when they took his $20 admission ticket and allowed him to enter (subsequently allowing him to enter the chain-link-fence-enclosed “beer garden” within the festival grounds) go far to support the claim that his client’s arrest was unjustified and in violation of the U.S. Constitution under protections afforded by at least two amendments.
For its part, the San Diego Police Department had little to say in regard to the incident, citing the department’s standing policy not to comment on pending litigation. The formal claim and complaint is now in the hands of the city attorney.
Speaking of the city attorney’s office, it declined to prosecute the public nudity case against Walters.
Walters’ ordeal began when, he says, an officer injected himself into a conversation among himself, a photographer and a handful of others inside the beer garden. The group was discussing his leather outfit, after the photographer had completed an impromptu photo shoot of Walters.
“He said, ‘In my opinion, it’s borderline illegal,’” Walters told San Diego LGBT Weekly.
According to Walters, the officer responded by saying, “I am the authority and my opinion is the only one that matters.”
“Then he disappeared,” said Walters, who thought the encounter was strange, but over.
What he didn’t realize was that the officer had gone for back up. Ultimately, he was physically removed from the festival grounds by police.
“There were about five of them,” Walters said. “And I was totally alone. I felt abandoned and surrounded by people in authority who personally didn’t like me or my community.”
Although, he felt abandoned, he was by no means alone. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of spectators to the scene filled the part of Balboa Park on a corner of Juniper and its environs – including members of San Diego LGBT Pride’s security team. One team member was, according to Attorney Chris Morris, a man named Shawn Chamberlain.
“I had told the officers that if they were going to arrest me, then I would be filming my arrest on my iPhone,” Walters said. “That’s when Shawn came over and said, ‘You’re in serious trouble,’ and knocked the phone out of my hand.”
Officers did nothing and said nothing to Chamberlain, according to him.
“This is my own community?” Walters asked rhetorically. “I couldn’t believe this was happening.”
One of the fundamental causes of the incident, according to Morris, was that San Diego Pride organizers, recognizing their fastest growing market as LGBT-friendly straight people and families, advertised the event as family friendly in the mainstream market, while globally inviting LGBT people to come to the parade and festival with comfort in the knowledge that it would be a safe and secure place for them to express themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Morris was unsure whether the city would offer an acceptable settlement, or if a court case was inevitable.
“Of course, we want damages for Wills illegal and unlawful arrest and the violation of his civil rights,” he said. “But we also want to be sure this doesn’t happen to someone else.”
San Diego LGBT Weekly has obtained documents showing that San Diego Pride plans to ask police to help them carve out a dress code for the 2012 event that will avert future entanglements among festival goers and guests.
“We asked Pride for an apology and help establishing a legal fund for Will,” Morris said. “But they said they did nothing wrong and declined to help.”
Quite clearly we have no power to control the police,” said Dwayne Crenshaw, executive director, San Diego LGBT Pride, who acknowledged that a deputy chief claims that Pride did reach out prior to the parade and festival to ask for beefed up enforcement of decency laws.
“We’ve heard the claim, but our investigation found that not anyone currently employed by or serving on the board of San Diego Pride asked the police to do anything of the kind,” Crenshaw added.
Crenshaw said he is saddened by what happened to Walters at this year’s Pride festival.
“And we’re taking steps ensure that there will never another Will Walters.” Crenshaw added that Walters’ attorney did approach the organization seeking money, but “… I never understood them to ask for help establishing a legal fund for Will.”
One thing both parties agree about; there is a double standard in enforcement of the nudity law.
“Just look at the Over-the-Line Tournament,” said Morris, whose claim on behalf of Walters included photos of topless and buttocks-revealing women at the annual beach event, which is mostly a straight “bat-and-ball” tournament.
LGBTweekly.com has obtained a copy of Will Walters’ claim against the City of San Diego and the San Diego Police Dept. We’ve posted it here for your examination. Walters claims his civil rights were violated when he was removed from and arrested outside the 2011 Pride festival, held in July at Balboa Park.
View PDF: claim.pdf
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