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Man Arrested While Reciting Iraq Casualty List Sues

He claims free speech violation. Santa Barbara police say he was disturbing the peace.

October 04, 2005|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

A man arrested on Veterans Day last year while publicly reciting the names of military casualties in Iraq has sued the Santa Barbara Police Department.

In the lawsuit filed last week, American Civil Liberties Union attorneys representing Michael Tocher said police could not "demonstrate a compelling, important, or even rational basis" for allegedly violating their client's 1st Amendment right to free speech.

But City Atty. Stephen Wiley said the officers were trying to get Tocher to quit using his bullhorn after a businessman across busy State Street complained about the noise.

"He wasn't told he couldn't continue to speak," Wiley said. "And it had nothing to do with what he was saying."

Prosecutors declined to file charges against Tocher, 36, an electrical engineer from Nipomo, Calif., in the Nov. 11 incident. He had been cited for disturbing the peace.

"There were no altercations and nobody complained to us," Tocher said Wednesday. "There were just about 20 people sitting there out of respect, just listening to the names being read."

Tocher said he and his brother George, a Los Angeles social worker, decided to observe Veterans Day by meeting in their hometown of Santa Barbara to read a Defense Department list of U.S. and allied casualties.

They had recited about a third of the 1,200 names, in a downtown plaza outside a Borders bookstore, when officers Morris Rivard and Rayshun Drayton stopped them, saying they had received a complaint, according to the lawsuit.

When Michael Tocher questioned Rivard's request for identification, the officer handcuffed him, had him wait on a bench for 30 minutes, drove him to police headquarters and cited him, the lawsuit said.

"That question in and of itself seems to have triggered the officers' action," said Ricardo Garcia, one of Tocher's attorneys. "There was no response, no follow-up -- simply, an 'OK -- you're under arrest.' "

George Tocher was not arrested or cited.

The lawsuit specifies no monetary damages.

"I want the city to reassure me and others that we can speak out without fear of retribution," Michael Tocher said.

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