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Riverside council critic arrested after talking too long

Karen Wright ends up on the floor in handcuffs but is given a citation instead of going to jail. 'She speaks on every single discussion item at every public meeting every time,' the mayor says.

October 26, 2012|Los Angeles Times

A 60-year-old woman who is a frequent Riverside City Council critic ended up on the floor in handcuffs after tussling with a police officer who then placed her under arrest.

Her alleged crime? Disrupting a public meeting by speaker longer than her allotted three minutes.

Karen Wright was denouncing a proposed city contract for sludge waste removal Tuesday when the red lights in the council chambers blinked, signaling that her time was up.

Over the next 30 seconds, Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge tried to stop her four times before a city police officer approached her at the lectern and asked her to sit down.

"No, I'm not sitting down," Wright told the officer, an exchange captured on the city's video of council proceedings. "No, I am not stepping out."

It was unclear how she ended up on the floor, but the video shows the officer pulling her arm. Loveridge said police placed handcuffs on her, but quickly took them off after Wright yelled that she was disabled.

Riverside Police Lt. Guy Toussaint said she was arrested on a misdemeanor charge but released on a citation rather than hauled off to jail.

He said that he did not yet know who the arresting officer was and had not reviewed the police report, but that officers are allowed to handcuff those under arrest for the safety of the suspect and those around them.

"All I was told was that you are given a certain amount of time to make statements to the council and she went over her time," Toussaint said. "She was asked to leave and she refused to do so."

Loveridge said Wright started showing up at council meetings a few years ago and became an active civic participant with "eclectic" interests who spends a lot of time preparing for her remarks.

"She speaks on every single discussion item at every public meeting every time," Loveridge said. "She speaks more than any council member or any mayor."

In fact, Loveridge said, Wright returned to the council chambers after her run-in with police and spoke on two more items, bringing her total speaking appearances to six on Tuesday. On some days, he said, she will fill out as many as 20 speaker cards.

Loveridge was involved in a far more serious incident in 1998, when he and two council colleagues were shot when a gunman opened fire in City Hall.

As some residents criticized Wright's arrest, Loveridge said the council has already changed the rules: As of Wednesday, he said, the meeting chair, not the police, will decide whom to eject from council chambers.

Wright told the Press-Enterprise of Riverside that she was shocked at what happened and doesn't believe she did anything wrong.

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

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