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Orange County

Probe of July 4 Arrest Is Promised

City Hall: Activist did nothing to prompt action by Costa Mesa police, friend claims.

July 16, 2002|DAVID HALDANE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The mayor and police chief of Costa Mesa promised Monday to investigate allegations that police acted wrongfully in arresting a protester whom hecklers said splattered them with paint during a Fourth of July demonstration.

"It will be thoroughly investigated and, if we did something wrong, it will be corrected," Chief Dave Snowden said after a City Council meeting at which more than 20 people voiced complaints.

The demonstration occurred in front of Nike Town, a store in Triangle Square at 19th Street and Harbor Boulevard. The company's alleged use of sweatshop and child labor in foreign countries was being protested. The company has previously denied overseas worker abuses.

Demonstrators say they were physically and verbally assaulted by at least three hecklers.

During the altercation, they said, someone threw red paint on the hecklers, resulting in the arrest of Naui Huitzilopochtli, 24, a Costa Mesa activist.

"Naui was falsely arrested," Tom Lash, a Huntington Beach resident who was at the demonstration, told the City Council. "It happened while we were celebrating our independence from tyranny," he said, "but sometimes it seems like we haven't come that far."

According to Snowden, the action was a citizen's arrest. Police, he said, are legally obligated to arrest someone accused by a citizen--in this case a victim of the paint-splattering--of committing a crime.

Huitzilopochtli said he spent about an hour in jail. The district attorney's office declined to file charges against him, and police halted the demonstration after the altercation.

"We realized that the situation had escalated," said Capt. Jim Watson, who has dealt with some of the estimated 20 formal complaints that stemmed from the incident.

Watson said he hoped to complete the investigation within 30 days.

"The council will receive a report," Mayor Linda Dixon told the crowd at the meeting.

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