CA-50: Fear & Loathing in North San Diego?

(Also at OC Progressive)

What happens when you combine a Democratic fundraiser in North San Diego County, a homophobic right-wing neighbor disturbing the peace, and the San Diego County Sheriffs? Apparently, one BIG, nasty mess! Here’s the original TPM story:

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that a fundraiser for Francine Busby, who previously ran for the deeply-Republican Fiftieth District and came close to winning in the 2006 special election and subsequent regular election, was raided by sheriffs after an unnamed neighbor made a noise complaint. Busby now calls it a "phony" noise complaint, and the article says that multiple neighbors said there was no great noise at all.

Here’s the twist: The fundraiser was hosted by a lesbian couple, and shortly before the sheriffs came a particular neighbor had shouted anti-gay slurs at the assembled crowd. "It was a quiet home reception, disrupted by a vulgar person shouting obscenities from behind the bushes," Busby says.

As one neighbor told the paper: "We didn’t hear anything until the sheriff came, with eight patrol cars and a helicopter."

And yes, the new developments are becoming more sordid by the minute. Details after the flip…

Now here’s the latest description on what happened from The LA Times:

The incident began about 9 p.m. after a deputy responded to a neighbor’s complaint of excessive noise. When one of the owners of the home where the fundraiser was being held, 60-year-old Shari Barman, refused to give her age to the deputy, the situation quickly deteriorated.

According to people attending the fundraiser, the deputy began pulling on Barman’s arm, despite pleas from her partner that she had just undergone surgery. People then surrounded Barman to prevent her from being arrested and one person held onto her leg to keep the deputy from taking her to his squad car.

The deputy called for backup and used pepper spray on the crowd. More deputies arrived. Barman was arrested for allegedly assaulting a deputy, and a second attendee, Pam Morgan, 62, of Rancho Santa Fe, was cited for obstructing an officer.

Busby said today that the deputy "clearly overreacted."

"There was no noise, there was no problem, these were middle-aged men and women talking very quietly," she said.

A former Cardiff school board member, Busby said some of the people at the fundraiser began choking from the pepper spray and needed help from paramedics.

"We need an investigation to make sure this never happens to anyone else," she said.

And according to The San Diego Union-Tribune, witnesses of Friday’s debacle are now calling out The Sheriff’s Department for what they saw as a horribly violent overreaction.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department has launched an internal investigation into the incident Friday night at the home on Rubenstein Avenue in the Cardiff community of Encinitas.

Authorities were called to the home of Shari Barman and Jane Stratton after a neighbor complained about noise, and Barman was arrested in the ensuing altercation with Deputy Marshall Abbott.

“He had a raged look in his eyes and his head was bobbing from side to side,” said Kimberley Beatty, who attended the event. She said she called 911 to report that the officer “appeared to be out of control.”

Beatty spoke Monday afternoon at a news conference along with two other guests at the fund-raiser, Christine Nava and Julie Chippendale.

Chippendale also said that Abbott “looked like he was feeling out of control.”

“His eyes were darting around the room as if we may have guns,” she said. “Guests were yelling, ‘What are you doing? Let her go!’ ”

Busby, 58, is a Democrat seeking the 50th Congressional District seat in 2010. She said about 30 of her supporters gathered at the home to raise campaign money for next year’s race against Congressman Brian Bilbray.

She said she used an amplified microphone from about 8 to 8:30 p.m. to address what she described as 30 or fewer guests; witnesses said an unidentified neighbor interrupted the speech by heckling Busby, calling her a “loser” and obscenities.

Deputy Abbott walked into the house shortly after 9 p.m. and said he was responding to the noise complaint. When Barman refused to provide her date of birth and turned to walk away, Abbott grabbed her arm but guests pulled her away, Sgt. Thomas Yancey of the Encinitas Sheriff’s Station said in an earlier statement.

Beatty said Abbott sprayed the guests with pepper spray and “pulled out a Taser shaped like a gun,” then dragged Barman, 60, by one arm and arrested her.

Undersheriff Bill Gore said in a statement Monday that Internal Affairs investigators will interview witnesses and examine evidence to determine what happened at the event.

Beatty, Nava and Chippendale are calling for an independent investigation into whether the incident violated civil rights. They are hoping an outside agency such as the U.S. Attorney or the District Attorney gets involved.

Beatty said: “I have never personally witnessed law enforcement officers behave this brutally and incompetently and with so much disregard for police procedure and people’s rights.”

At the very least, this looks to be police misconduct. And if the worst eyewitness accounts are to be believed, this may have been a frightening combination of homophobic hate crime and police brutality. And to make this even worse, this happened on the 40th anniversary of The Stonewall Riots in New York and on the same weekend as The Rainbow Lounge Raid in Fort Worth, Texas. It just goes to show that we haven’t really come that far in the last 40 years as a nation in tackling homophobia.

Hopefully, Francine Busby, the Encinitas homeowners, and all the people who were injured by the Sheriff’s Deputies will seek legal justice. This story truly frightens me. The police are supposed to keep the peace, not create more violence. Events like this only reinforces the distrust so many minority communities hold against police officers, and rightly so. Homophobia is still a dangerous threat, and discrimination still plagues the state and the nation.

But hey, perhaps some good can come out of this story. Francine Busby’s Congressional Campaign in the 50th District continues. Perhaps now is a good time for us to show our support for Francine, her campaign, and progressives in North San Diego County. Let’s hope something good can emerge out of this horrid, ugly mess.

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