Judge orders police away from activists' center

LOS ANGELES - A federal judge Friday ordered police to stay out of the headquarters of protesters gearing up for the Democratic National Convention unless they have a search warrant or there are urgent circumstances.

U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson said that although he found police have been violating activists' rights, he understood police concerns.

''This city has had a history of unfortunate riots,'' he said. ''I can understand that the Los Angeles Police Department, on a hot summer day, wants to protect the people. ... I can understand in the context of the pressure cooker, tensions run high and some officers acted inappropriately.''

The American Civil Liberties Union had contended that the activists' headquarters west of downtown was the subject of unconstitutional harassment.

ACLU attorney Carol Sobel told the judge that the headquarters, known as the Convergence Center, has been hit with helicopter spotlights as often as 50 times a night, and Fire Department officials - accompanied by police - have inspected the building several times.

''It's meant to have an intimidating effect,'' Sobel said. ''It's part of the chill.''

During the Republican National Convention, Philadelphia police raided a warehouse used by protesters. About 70 people were arrested at the site, which organizers said was used for making signs and puppets.

Pregerson issued a temporary restraining order barring police from checking the Convergence Center for building code, zoning or land-use violations unless they have a search warrant or there are ''exigent circumstances.'' Surveillance of the building is still allowed if there is probable cause.

Police Cmdr. David Kalish said he was ''quite pleased'' with the ruling, which he said was ''largely symbolic'' but ''validated our right to conduct criminal investigations anywhere in the city.''

The order bars police from tagging along with Fire Department officials, but Kalish said, ''We don't have any problem with that.''

The order was the latest constraint placed on Los Angeles police as the convention neared. The department was earlier ordered to shrink a security zone around the Staples Center convention site to allow demonstrators to be nearer the delegates.

The judge's order also bars officers from seizing large puppets protesters are preparing for the convention.

Sobel said police are concerned the puppets could be used to conceal weapons, but Deputy City Attorney Debra Gonzales said there would be no puppet seizures ''as long as the puppet is what it is.''

In other developments involving the convention, which begins Monday:

-Three protesters arrested Aug. 7 as they put up a banner across from Staples Center sued the city. Attorney Barbara Hadsell said police cut ropes to the banner, endangering two protesters rappelling down a hotel. The suit claims the three were denied access to an attorney and booked on suspicion of felony conspiracy to deter other demonstrations. Prosecutors declined to pursue felony charges, but the three still face misdemeanor trespass counts. Kalish said he could not comment on pending litigation, but said officers ''made every effort to ensure the safety of the arrestees.''

-Anarchists gathered for the start of a three-day conference. As many as 1,000 people were expected, with seminars on everything from welfare reform to first aid training. Hoping to distance the movement from potential unrest, conference organizers urged people to avoid discussing protest plans. ''We don't want any possible excuse for shutting us down,'' activist Brendan Crill told conferencegoers.

-The National Lawyers Guild and the Working People's Law Center announced that 250 lawyers and legal observers will be on the streets to ensure demonstrators' rights are respected.

-House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., appeared at a labor rally. With union members waving placards and chanting, Gephardt said their votes are critical in the tight race for control of Congress. The rally was organized to draw support for Democratic challengers Gerrie Schipske, Adam Schiff and Jane Harman, who all are engaged in tight California congressional races.

-Mayor Richard Riordan and other influential figures painted a glowing portrait of the city's economic, educational and demographic trends in a pep talk to Democratic National Convention volunteers at the Regal Biltmore Hotel. ''We are the capital city of the millennium,'' he said. In an interview, he dismissed rumors that the city intended to remove homeless people from downtown streets during the convention. The mayor said the city would not do that because it would be both inhumane and ''stupid politically.''


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