LONG BEACH — Prompted by protest from local black leaders, the City Council Tuesday censured Councilman Edd Tuttle for his arrest last month on a public drunkenness charge after he shouted racial slurs during a dispute with a group of teen-agers.
"I just don't think we can condone what Mr. Tuttle did," Councilman James Wilson said. "I just don't think we can remain silent."
The council voted 8 to 1 to approve the censure. Although no records on such actions are kept, it is believed to mark the first time in recent Long Beach history that council members have gone on record to officially express disapproval of a colleague's actions.
Tuttle at first asked that his colleagues delay the censure vote for a week so he could talk with them individually about the Aug. 19 arrest.
But when the matter came to a vote, Tuttle himself supported the censure. The councilman in an interview later explained that his vote was an expression that the racial slurs and his actions during the incident were "a mistake and inappropriate."
During the meeting, however, the councilman ignored pleas from black leaders and several council members that he apologize for the racial slurs.
"I've already taken the position that my actions on that night were unforgiveable," Tuttle responded. "When I made those statements, I was drunk. I made some very bad statements."
But black leaders continued to press the issue at the meeting, also calling for an investigation into whether Tuttle received preferential treatment from the police or city prosecutors.
"Do you apologize to the black community or not?" asked Amen Rahh, a black studies professor at California State University, Long Beach.
Tuttle responded that he felt he already had apologized in interviews with the press and letters to his constituents. The councilman said he was "not going to be boxed into a corner to make a glib amends" to Rahh and others at the council meeting.
In an interview following the vote, Tuttle said he still planned to "make amends to the individuals who feel they were wronged by me," including the youths he confronted. As Tuttle sees it, the process of apologizing for his actions "will be ongoing" and is not something that can be done in a single council meeting.
Councilman Warren Harwood, the lone opponent of the censure, said he felt any action should be delayed a week so the "implications" of a censure could be determined "for the long and short run."
The arrest came after Tuttle boarded a city bus and began arguing with the teen-agers when they whistled at a female passenger. According to police reports, Tuttle used "numerous ethnic slurs" to antagonize the youths, spat on one of the teen-agers and then began tussling with him.
Although one city official said the censure amounted to a "slap on the hand" for Tuttle, others predicted it could further cloud the councilman's political future. The censure does not restrict Tuttle's day-to-day activities as a councilman.
Black leaders said they were generally pleased by the council's action, but hoped that the matter might be probed further.
"This censure represents an acknowledgement by the council that he was wrong for what he did," said Frank Berry, president of the Long Beach chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.
Nonetheless, Berry called on the council to form an impartial panel of citizens to look into the circumstances surrounding Tuttle's arrest. If it is determined that the councilman had "violated the public trust," Berry said the council should "strongly encourage" Tuttle to resign.
Rahh called the censure "a very positive gesture," but continued to stress that the arrest and the court hearing should be investigated to determine if the councilman "used his political influence" at any time.
Tuttle said in an interview later that any implication he used political clout to get a better deal "was unfair."
"If anything, I think I was slapped in court harder than the average citizen would have been," he said.
In addition, Tuttle expressed dismay about the protest by black leaders.
"I feel like I was being dealt with by a lynch mob," Tuttle said. "If those people understood the dynamics of the entire incident, they would not be so judgmental nor so demanding of judgment."
Tuttle also said he was troubled that several black ministers spoke out against him.
"The entire message of Jesus Christ is one of forgiveness," he said. "It will be interesting to see how forgiving these people are."