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Acosta’s arrest is defended

Restraining the activist and keeping him handcuffed was the proper procedure in contentious 2006 meeting, former police chief says.

December 03, 2009|By Mona Shadia

Former Costa Mesa Police Chief John Hensley testified Thursday that officers arrested activist Benito Acosta at a City Council meeting in January 2006 for disrupting it and refusing to obey Mayor Allan Mansoor’s instructions during the session’s public comment phase.

Hensley appeared as a witness the second day of the trial in Acosta’s federal lawsuit against the city of Costa Mesa. The former chief testified that, during the Jan. 3, 2006, meeting, the mayor told Acosta to stop asking his supporters in the audience to stand while he addressed the council.

Acosta was arrested because he caused a disturbance, a violation of the city’s code, Hensley said.

But members of an anti-immigration group, the Minutemen, who attended that meeting, obeyed instructions and did not disturb it, Hensley testified.

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Officers moved in on Acosta, and Mansoor called the meeting to recess before Acosta’s three minutes at the dais were up.

Acosta was speaking out against the mayor’s resolution that city police should begin to enforce federal immigration laws. Mansoor’s resolution divided the city and alienated its Latino community. According to depositions given by the former chief, the resolution was also something that Hensley opposed.

Dan Stormer, Acosta’s lawyer, asked Hensley if it was proper police procedure to leave Acosta unattended and face down with his hands cuffed behind his back after the arrest was made. Hensley replied that it was proper and that this was done for the officers’ safety.

Although the district attorney’s office declined to file charges, the city tried to press charges, but was unsuccessful. While the city pursued criminal charges, Acosta sued Costa Mesa with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union, claiming that mayor and city violated his 1st Amendment right to free speech.

Gisselle Suazo, Acosta’s ex-girlfriend, also testified Thursday before the nine-member jury. She described Acosta’s physical and emotional state after his arrest.

“He looked out of energy. He looked like he had some injuries and just completely different,” she said adding that Acosta, who goes by the name Coyotl Tezcatlipoca, is “usually the life of the crowd.”

Acosta had red marks on his hands, chest, back and the side of his face was swollen, Suazo said.

Acosta sought medical help for his injuries and was physically and emotionally affected by the Jan, 3, 2006, incident for at least six months, Suazo said.

“He was just very nervous. One of the biggest signs was his sleeping. He was always waking up afraid that something might happen,” she said.

Acosta will take the stand sometime today, Stormer said.


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