By Tommy A. Purvis
An activist who documents instances of police misconduct has her own horror story to tell
The Nov. 15 conviction of a police-misconduct activist for blocking a sidewalk near a DUI checkpoint on Market Street in Downtown Riverside comes along with a horror story of time spent in county. As far as Anita Flores and her supporters are concerned, this member of Cop Watch IE—which aims to observe police and document any instances of alleged misconduct and brutality—ended up behind the walls of the Robert Presley Detention Center on a misdeanor charge soley because of her activism.
“We were [in Downtown Riverside] to make sure nobody’s rights were being violated in the DUI checkpoint, especially the undocumented,” Flores tells the Weekly about the incident that led to her arrest in May. “The police are supposed to use a formula to determine which cars are being stopped for questioning. We were filming and observing from a safe distance to monitor the situation and make sure that rules were being followed.”
Flores says Cop Watch IE made a Riverside Police Department operation commander aware of the activist group’s intention to observe the DUI checkpoint. Shortly afterward, an officer approached six members of Cop Watch IE and ordered them to put the camera away. The person filming then asked the officer if the group was breaking any laws, and if so, which ones, according to Flores’ account. The officer then told the group that they had five seconds to leave the area or face arrest.
“The officer told me that I was arrested because I did not leave fast enough,” Flores tells the Weekly. “I was backpedaling when he grabbed my wrists and handcuffed me.”
During the booking process, Flores made it clear to deputies that she had epilepsy. She says a jail nurse monitored her taking a nightly pill that was later booked into custody along with the rest of her personal property. Flores says that deputies then removed her socks and placed her alone in a chilly holding cell. Impacted by the cold and stress of being incarcerated, Flores says she knocked on her cell’s window to inform a deputy that she felt a seizure coming on. However, the deputy did nothing but sing the lyrics to the theme song from Three’s Company (“Come and knock on our door . . .”) to Flores, possibly mocking her. When she awoke from her seizure a few hours later, Flores says deputies would not acknowledge the episode. She was denied a blanket again, she says. Next time she awoke, Flores was chained to a gurney, being rolled into Riverside County Regional Medical Center in Moreno Valley. She had been in the county jail for 12 hours. Several Cop Watch IE members who had been waiting for her release all night long were finally able to visit her.
Flores was eventually convicted, but plans to appeal. She faces three years probation and 15 days of community service, jail or house arrest. Plus, the “no negative contact” with law enforcement clause restricts her activism.
Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Correctional Chief Deputy Jerry Gutierrez tells the Weekly that Flores never filed a complaint with the department over her alleged mistreatment. He adds that Flores needs to report the alleged situation to the department to trigger an investigation.
Other activists have come forward with similar claims of misconduct and brutality.
Brian Judson was among the 11 activists arrested in November 2011 when the Riverside Police Department raided the Occupy encampment on the Main Street pedestrian mall in front of City Hall. Judson tells the Weekly that as he was simply making an effort to read and sign medical and property documents during the booking process in the detention center when an impatient deputy told him to “sign the f*@king paper,” and asked him,“Do I need to Tase you?” Later, Judson alleges that a deputy pinned his arm against his back and slammed his head against a desk. Another deputy forced Judson to provide a thumbprint in place of his signature, he says.
Gutierrez—who oversees all the county jails—tells the Weekly that deputies will make every effort to reason with difficult inmates that refuse to sign documents or allow for their thumbprint to be rolled.
Another Occupy activist—who chose to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals—who was arrested last year alleges that a Riverside police officer handcuffed him and placed him in back of a squad car with the heater on full blast for 45 minutes in direct sunlight.
Not surprisingly, while Flores was incarcarated, she says she came in contact with inmates who claimed to suffer mistreatment at the hands of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.