Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Claremont Chamber, city respond to police lawsuit

Claremont Chamber of Commerce released a statement Tuesday afternoon declaring that the chamber “did not ‘chill’ [the Claremont Police Officer’s Association’s] First Amendment Rights.”

The Claremont Police Officer’s Association filed a complaint against the city of Claremont and the Claremont Chamber of Commerce in late December claiming its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated at this year’s Village Venture. The chamber says it is “surprised and concerned” regarding the claim, and that the accusations made by the CPOA are false.

The chamber states that space within the section of the annual arts and crafts fair where the police table would have been allowed had been sold out since the end of August. Police did not approach the chamber about their table until 2 weeks prior to the mid-October event.

While the chamber says it told police they were allowed to distribute flyers next to the Police Command Post at no charge, the CPOA was not authorized to move its table to the crafts section, where they eventually moved without permission. Though they were asked to close down their table, the chamber says it permitted the officers to continue walking around the event passing out their flyers.

The chamber’s release states in full:

“The Claremont Chamber of Commerce has had a long and productive relationship with the Claremont Police Department. We are surprised and concerned that the Claremont Police Officers’ Association (CPOA) has named the Chamber in a lawsuit and is alleging that the Chamber violated CPOA’s First Amendment rights at the 30th annual Village Venture held on October 22, 2011.

The facts are:
Village Venture is an Arts and Crafts Faire where participating vendors pay for booth space. Vendor applications are accepted beginning in June and vendors are notified in August of their booth assignment. All booth space in the Business and Organization block, where the Claremont Police Officer’s Association would have been placed, was sold out by the end of August.

CPOA approached the Chamber in October, shortly before the event, and requested permission to hand out fliers. In an effort to accommodate CPOA at this late date, the Chamber representative advised CPOA they could distribute fliers at the Police Command Post. CPOA was also advised there was no charge.
According to the Summons, Chief Cooper advised CPOA that they could not distribute their fliers at the Command Post. CPOA then moved a table into the Arts and Crafts vendor area without the knowledge of or permission from the Chamber. In accordance with Village Venture policies and in fairness to the 474 paid vendors, the Chamber asked CPOA to remove the table. CPOA asked if they could walk through the crowds and distribute their fliers. The Chamber representative responded that distribution of the fliers is permissible.

The Chamber did not ‘chill’ CPOA’s First Amendment rights. The CPOA was simply asked to follow the same rules as everyone else and to remove a table from an unauthorized area. In the past, police officers have assisted Chamber representatives when it became necessary to remove a vendor who had not timely applied for, paid or received a vendor permit.”

A closed session of the city council was held tonight to address litigation. In response to the CPOA lawsuit, several residents, including former members of the “No on Measure CL” came forward to share their own experience of restricted self expression at Village Venture 2010.

Claremont resident Kimberley George says she was approached by Village Venture security and told she could not walk around with her “No on Measure CL” sign.

“If someone has a diffference of opinion, how can some of the public, as well as people who are supposedly in positions of security or event management, not know about our freedom of speech and try to intimidate us and shut us down? In light of whats happening in Claremont, and with the police department experience at Village Venture Day...this has brought up this issue to me personally,” Ms. George said. “This shows me that there are some very uninformed people who don’t know about our freedom of speech and they don’t seem to know the difference from a person walking around with a sign and a booth at Village Venture Day.”

Though the city has not released an official statement regarding the lawsuit, Mayor Sam Pedroza noted that although the CPOA’s table was shut down at Village Venture, “the CPOA was allowed to walk the event and pass out their information.”

“The city has turned the defense of the case over to our third party administrator [Joint Powers Insurance Authority] for this ongoing litigation,” Mr. Pedroza added.

The city and chamber must notify the CPOA on how they wish to proceed with the case by Wednesday, January 18, according to the summons.

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