ALHAMBRA — A judge last week dismissed charges of violating probation against Monterey Park activist Frank Arcuri, finding that allegedly harassing statements Arcuri had made about Monterey Park Police Capt. Joe Santoro were protected by the First Amendment.
Arcuri was convicted last December on charges of disrupting a public meeting, battery of a police officer and resisting arrest. The charges stemmed from an incident at a Monterey Park City Council meeting. In lieu of jail time, Alhambra Municipal Court Judge Carlos Uranga placed Arcuri on probation, with a condition that he not "annoy, harass or molest" Santoro or Councilman Monty Mainbog, then mayor of Monterey Park.
After Arcuri printed a story in his newsletter, the Monterey Park Voice, claiming that Santoro was facing criminal charges for assaulting him, the district attorney's office filed charges of probation violation.
Prosecutor William E. Holliman said the article was "a broad misstatement of fact designed to injure the reputation of Capt. Santoro and calculated to annoy and molest." The "charges" mentioned in the article referred to a criminal complaint Arcuri had made against Santoro. Arcuri was subsequently convicted of filing a false police report.
'Designed to Annoy'
However, Judge Ronald R. Combest ruled Thursday that although Arcuri's statements in the article violated the conditions of his probation, he was protected by his constitutional rights to free expression.
According to Holliman, Combest found that "the statements were offensive and designed to annoy, but because they appeared in a news publication, freedom of the press provided a sanctuary for those statements."
Arcuri's reaction was mixed, since he had wanted Combest to strike down the terms of his probation as being unconstitutional. Nonetheless, he hailed the decision as a victory for constitutional rights.
"The American people are vindicated," Arcuri said. "Once again, freedom of speech is reestablished for newspapers."
Option to Sue
Holliman said Combest told him that Santoro's only recourse would be to sue Arcuri for libel. The prosecution argued that because Arcuri is indigent, Santoro would be unable to collect damages even if he could prove libel. Holliman said he is considering an appeal.
Combest, a judge from Mendocino County, was brought in to hear the case after a San Diego County judge ruled in August that Uranga, who presided over Arcuri's criminal trial, be disqualified because of possible bias in the case.