In a meeting at which one man angrily called the police chief a liar and a 9-year-old boy urged officers to stop hurting his friends, an advisory board Wednesday unanimously supported the San Diego Police Department's use of nunchakus to forcibly remove anti-abortion demonstrators from unlawful protest sites.
The recommendations by the Citizens' Advisory Board on Police-Community Relations now go to the city manager's office, where they most likely will be wholeheartedly embraced. Both City Manager John Lockwood and Police Chief Bob Burgreen have repeatedly defended the use of the controversial pain-compliance devices.
Burgreen, after hearing a litany of complaints from abortion opponents at the meeting, for the first time publicly lashed back at the demonstrators. He said he deeply resents their attempts to make police officers "look bad" for wrapping the nunchakus around the wrists of seemingly peaceful protesters and pulling them away from picket sites.
"My primary concern is about people who call themselves law-and-order supporters deliberately working together to draw attention to their cause and to deliberately make the men and women of the San Diego Police Department look as bad as they can look," he said.
Then the chief, facing into the crowd of about two dozen protesters who were at the meeting, warned, "Don't use the Police Department as the foil."
Burgreen also insisted that the nunchakus are not used for "punitive measures" against the demonstrators. That statement prompted one protester, Will Lehman of Vista, to suddenly stand up and angrily call the chief a liar.
Lehman, an Operation Rescue leader who was forcibly pulled from underneath a police van during the group's latest protest, on Saturday, then stormed out of the meeting.
Other protesters passionately pleaded with the advisory board to vote against the recommendations supporting the nunchakus. One woman showed the board members a series of scars and bruises on her wrists that she said she suffered in past protests. Then 9-year-old Danny Phelps of El Cajon stepped up and addressed the panel.
"I don't think it's very nice," he said in a soft voice that board members strained to hear.
"The people are walking and the cops are still arresting them and hurting them. Some of my friends were there and I don't like seeing people hurt."
Danny is the son of Glen Phelps, a former Detroit police officer who has become a spokesman for the Operation Rescue protesters.
Burgreen, asked after the meeting about the boy's comments, said he does not approve of "using children to make a statement."
"This is obviously a young boy who was saying things he'd been told to say," the chief said. "He cannot understand the total ramifications here."
Removed With Nunchakus
Andrea Skorepa, acting chairwoman of the advisory board, attended the Operation Rescue demonstration at a Kearny Mesa women's clinic Saturday, where 82 protesters were arrested after they blockaded the clinic entrances. The majority of them were removed with the nunchakus after first refusing to voluntarily abandon their protest.
In announcing the recommendations to the city manager, Skorepa said that "we have concluded that the current department's proper use of the nunchaku device, on an individual basis as well as their use at demonstrations and in crowd control, should be continued."
Other recommendations were that police officers receive ongoing training in the use of pain compliance techniques, that the use of nunchakus be videotaped by police to protect the city in case of lawsuits and that the public and protest organizers be warned in advance that police "will use all law enforcement tools necessary to carry out their duty to enforce the law."
'Suffer the Consequences'
Skorepa told her colleagues on the panel that she believes the officers acted properly and responsibly in applying the nunchakus at the demonstration Saturday. And she suggested that the abortion protesters should not play the martyr if they voluntarily accept pain as part of their refusal to end their demonstrations.
"If you believe in something, and you believe in it to the extent that you're willing to violate the law and be arrested, then you must be willing to suffer the consequences," she said.
Those sentiments were echoed by Murray Galinson, chairman of the recently appointed Citizens' Review Board on Police Practices, a separate panel that will monitor how police supervisors investigate citizen complaints.
"I feel the Police Department used probably what I would consider unusual restraint," said Galinson, who also witnessed the demonstration and arrests Saturday.
"It's a very difficult situation. Emotions are high. But in my opinion, the San Diego Police Department is doing a very, very good job."
Galinson's comments to the board were met with boos and jeers by the protesters, and he was abruptly interrupted, as was Burgreen.