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Roughed-Up Veterans to Get $79,000 : Military: Army agrees to settlement of lawsuit over incident at Presidio during group's delivery of anti-war message. The action sprung from a 1991 parade saluting Gulf War GIs.

March 30, 1994|JENIFER WARREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — The Army has agreed to pay $79,000 to a group of peace-loving veterans who were assaulted by military police as they marched in a parade celebrating the end of the Persian Gulf War.

The agreement, unveiled Monday, settles a lawsuit filed by members of the Veterans Speakers Alliance, who claimed that the Army violated their free-speech rights by interrupting their delivery of an anti-war message in the parade at the San Francisco Presidio.

"I'm pleased because we feel we weren't treated very well," said John Wike, one of seven alliance veterans who sued. "The military went too far. They should have just let us have our say and go on our way, but they jumped us instead."

The lawsuit sprung from the May, 1991, parade staged by the Army and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce to welcome home Gulf War veterans. The sponsors organized the event in part to blunt criticism of the city after the Board of Supervisors declared San Francisco a sanctuary for those opposed to the war.

Members of the Veterans Speakers Alliance, like other Bay Area veterans groups, accepted an invitation to participate. When the alliance marchers reached the reviewing stands, where Gov. Pete Wilson and various Army dignitaries sat, they unfurled banners and placards reading, "Veterans Say No to War" and "Study War No More."

Military police promptly tried to seize the signs and pushed six of the veterans against a wire fence when they resisted. The marchers were handcuffed and detained for several hours, released only after being issued orders banning them from the base.

Historically, those pursuing 1st Amendment claims on military installations have had little luck. Courts have given the government broad latitude to regulate and prohibit forms of speech on bases because of national security concerns.

In this case, however, the veterans argued that the parade was a political event and that its sponsors were required to allow the full range of perspectives.

"When you open up a military base for a parade--and invite people to participate--you can't pounce on them just because you oppose the message on their signs," said Alan Schlosser of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the veterans.

U.S. Attorney Michael Yamaguchi, whose office handled the case for the Army, called the settlement fair.

"If the government's going to allow a public display of support (for the war)," he said, "it should also allow in the same context a contrary opinion. This simply reaffirms that principle."

Under the settlement, which was approved by U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong, the Army will pay court costs, attorneys' fees and give each plaintiff $5,626. The agreement also lifts the order barring the veterans from the Presidio.

The Veterans Speakers Alliance is a Bay Area group of about 250 combat veterans who speak to schoolchildren about their experiences and views on war. Members said they participated in the parade to welcome home Gulf War veterans and remember those who died fighting.

"Our message was an appropriate statement of the realities of war," veteran Paul Cox said, "to remind people death and destruction should be mourned, not celebrated."

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