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Hostilities Escalate Outside the Santa Maria Courthouse

June 07, 2005|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

SANTA MARIA, Calif. — On Day Two of deliberations, tensions were high, nerves were frayed, emotions were raw, accusations were ugly.

And that was just the scene outside the courthouse.

Inside, jurors on Monday spent their first full day considering the child-molestation charges against singer Michael Jackson.

Not far from their deliberation room, a Muslim activist hurled allegations of racial profiling at local traffic officers, the Rev. Jesse Jackson likened the 2003 raid on the defendant's Neverland ranch to one of the bloodiest police actions in U.S. history and a nasty fracas broke out when Michael Jackson's father, Joseph, strode into the complex through a roiling sea of fans and media members.

Hostilities extended even to the shaded country highway leading to Neverland, about 30 miles to the south. On a one-mile stretch of tranquil Figueroa Mountain Road, a woman in a pickup truck mowed down some 40 big, red foam-board hearts that Jackson fans had planted on wooden stakes.

Fans spoke of putting the hearts back up and hiring a security guard to protect them. In the meantime, someone from a passing vehicle lobbed an egg at 22-year-old Andrew Ung, a graphic designer and Jackson supporter from Orange County, hitting him square in the chest.

"They hate Michael," he said, shaking his head in disgust. "They hate us."

TV crews at the gates of Neverland came in for some hatred themselves.

When they tried to go live from the scene, fans sabotaged them by setting off their car alarms in unison.

At the courthouse, reporters were settling in for a morning of waiting around and interviewing each other when Jackson's father unexpectedly arrived, briskly walking through the throng of fans lining Miller Street. As the crowd parted, dozens of fans clustered around him as an informal security detail, trying to fend off a stampede of reporters and camera crews from around the world.

"Where's my son?" Jackson asked.

As the mob made its way down an alley of TV satellite trucks, fans chanted obscenities at the media.

Sheriff's deputies intervened, ordering cameras shut off in the courthouse area, where taping and photographs have been forbidden by court order. The elder Jackson vanished into the court building. Later in the morning, he was driven away -- not in his standard black SUV with tinted windows, but in a purple PT Cruiser.

His unannounced drop-in miffed officials trying to keep the volatile courthouse grounds secure.

"I feel set up," said media pool coordinator Peter Shaplen, contending that Joseph Jackson had recklessly drawn attention to himself. "That was a stunt."

Later in the day, the incident was explained at a news conference given by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

It seemed Joseph Jackson had noticed that the four black SUVs that carry his son's entourage were missing from their usual spot at Neverland. Assuming that Michael had been summoned to the courthouse, he rushed to Santa Maria.

It turned out that the SUVs had been taken to a carwash, the Rev. Jackson said.

As a news chopper hovered, only a handful of the 50 or so reporters at his news conference managed to hear what Jackson was saying. But he expressed his support for Michael Jackson, and criticized the 2003 police search of Neverland as a "Waco-style invasion," referring to the 1993 FBI raid on a Texas religious sect's headquarters that ended in nearly 80 deaths.

Alleged police overreaction was also the topic at hand down the street from the courthouse.

Police had pulled over a van carrying Najee Ali, a Los Angeles activist who heads a group called Project Islamic Hope. The driver was cited for "impeding traffic" -- driving at 5 mph, according to police, to display a banner proclaiming Jackson's innocence to cheering fans.

"We're being harassed, and we are religious leaders," Ali shouted as his videographer panned across half a dozen officers and at least as many TV cameras. Condemning "racist cops," Ali, an African American, told the officers: "You guys should be ashamed of yourselves. Ashamed! Ashamed!"

An action by Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville set off some controversy as well.

After the jury sent him a written question, he disclosed it in private to attorneys on both sides instead of revealing it in a public hearing -- a break with standard courtroom practice.

Melville's action was immediately protested by Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., a Los Angeles attorney representing a media coalition that includes the Los Angeles Times.

In a court filing, Boutrous requested a hearing on the matter, saying questions from jurors "are as much a part of the court proceedings as the trial testimony and closing arguments."

By day's end, no hearing had been set.


Times staff writer Louis Sahagun contributed to this report.

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