By Josh Friedman
Former San Luis Obispo police chief Deanna Cantrell is again under fire for arrests of anti-police protesters, this time as chief in the North Bay Area city of Fairfield.
Fairfield police officers arrested a total of nine demonstrators at a city council meeting on Tuesday, shortly after Cantrell presented the Fairfield City Council with the findings of an investigation into a Sept. 2012 fatal shooting in the city of Vallejo that involved a current member of Cantrell’s force. The investigation found no criminal wrongdoing on the part of officer or another policeman involved in the shooting.
After Cantrell delivered her presentation, members of a Black Lives Matter-associated group called Fairfield Change began shouting from the audience and demanding an opportunity to speak.
During the meeting, protesters chanted, “One, two, three, four, let the people take the floor. Five, six, seven, eight, let us all participate.” The protesters also chanted, “What do we want to hear? The public. When do we want to hear it? Now. If we don’t get it, shut it down.”
Officials then called the meeting into recess. During the recess, police officers arrested nine individuals raging in age from 17 to 35, each on a charge of willfully disturbing or breaking up a lawful meeting. Eight of the individuals arrested were residents of Fairfield, while one was a resident of nearby Suisun City.
Fairfield police say those arrested willfully and without authority disrupted the city council meeting to the point it could not continue. Prior to being arrested, the protesters were asked to leave the meeting and did not do so, the police department said in a news release.
However, critics argue police did not have the legal ground to arrest the protesters during a recess in the meeting, and by doing so, they violated the demonstrators’ First Amendment rights.
The Fairfield Police Department, on the other hand, claims it is upholding the First Amendment.
“Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our society and is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” according to the department. “However, there are situations in which limits on a person’s First Amendment rights are appropriate, especially where the speech in question unlawfully disturbs or breaks up an assembly or meeting, such as a lawful council meeting. The best way to prevent this in the future is for participants in council meetings to be aware of their rights and responsibilities during a council meeting and to respectfully follow established laws pertaining to public meetings.
The police department also argues Fairfield Change threatened in advance to disrupt the meeting.
Fairfield Change stated on social media the police department is protecting a “killer cop” and denying members of the public their opportunity to have public comment at council meetings.
“Fairfield Police Department cares more about covering up their killer cop on the force than letting citizens have freedom of speech,” Fairfield Change stated in an Instagram post. “Fairfield City Council and city manger would rather have people arrested than let them speak at public comment. This is not okay.”