Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tea Party or Brownshirts?

Alaska Dispatch editor and founder Tony Hopfinger was arrested Sunday as he posed questions to U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller. Following a town hall meeting at Central Middle School in Anchorage, Hopfinger pressed the Sarah Palin endorsed candidate if he had ever been reprimanded for politicking and other irregularities while working at the Fairbanks North Star Borough in 2008. Bodyguards told him to stop asking questions, or leave the public school building. The henchman refused to identify themselves, but threatened to arrest Hopfinger for trespassing, then acted, putting the journalist against the wall in an armbar and then slapped on a set of handcuffs, stating that he was now under arrest.

During his detainment, other reporters began filming and posing questions to Hopfinger, at which point the security detail also threatened to arrest them and pressed them down the hallway away from the detainee. After about 30 minutes, Hopfinger was finally released when Anchorage police arrived and refused to take him into custody.

In the wake of the arrest, Joe Miller told Fox and CNN on Monday that he had been required to bring his own private security detail for his town hall meeting at Central Middle School. The school district said that they made no such requirement however, that a hallway monitor and parking lot monitor were all that was expected. The Miller event failed to meet their contractual obligation to make an “expectation speech” at the beginning of the event, reminding people to be respectful, to park properly, and to remain only in permitted areas.

It is left to Anchorage Municipal Prosecutor Al Patterson to decide whether to charge Hopfinger with trespassing and assault alleged by the security team now identified as Dropzone Security Services. The basis of the assault charge stems from the fact that the Anchorage Dispatch editor shoved one of the guards. He counters that it was a defensive move to counter the encroachment upon his freedom of movement by the guards, which is a violation of his civil rights and can lead to liability under false imprisonment or even kidnapping if he was not breaking any laws by being there. But were the guards legally justified in making such a detainment, blocking his freedom of movement, based on a charge of trespass? Perhaps.

What many folks don't realize, is that private security actually have more authority than a police officer in some respects. Whereas a police officer must establish probable cause to make an arrest, a security contractor has no such obligation and can dictate conduct arbitrarily and at his own discretion as a contract agent of another person or the place being guarded. Something to think about there folks. Another unseen but potent facet of the corporate sponsored police-state that has been built up around us. Private security have more power than your local public servant peace officer. So long as they are operating within the confines of their contractual agreement.

In other words, yes, security guards can in fact kick you out of a public school that has been rented out for private use, and arrest you for trespassing if you refuse to leave. More on that in a moment though. This is hardly the sort of thing that a U.S. Senate hopeful should be endorsing anyway, legal or not. Refusing to answer a reporter's questions certainly leads one to conclude that the candidate might be trying to hide something that the public should know. Even if it were simply frivolous badgering by a reporter, having that reporter arrested hardly seems to be the sort of conduct we should expect from a Senate hopeful at a political event which the public had been invited to, even if it was paid for with private campaign funds. This was not some private fund-raising dinner in a hotel where a heckler came in and started upsetting tables. This was a public “town hall” meeting at a public school. Having a reporter arrested for asking questions hardly seems to be an expression of freedom and openness by a man hoping to represent Alaska in the United States Senate. And so much for the lip-service given to Constitutional liberty by right-wing politicians. Once again we see that there is an asterisk next to freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, that reads, “in designated areas, by permit only” where contract law supersedes the Constitution.

But had Mr. Hopfinger actually been trespassing in a designated area, privately secured under contractual agreement? The fact that the guards did not identify themselves and were not in uniform is one important point. If they failed to express by what authority the arrest was being made, the arrest may be invalid leaving them open to lawsuit for false imprisonment, even if they did in fact carry such authority. But did they even really have such authority there in the hallway of the school? No, in fact they did not. The event contract states that the district leased the stage, the cafeteria, and the parking lot, not the hallway in which the arrest took place. Therefore, those security agents had no more authority to arrest him there than if he were standing on a public street corner yelling through a bullhorn. They cannot charge that he was trespassing in an area in which they had no contractual authority over, any more than they could walk into a public school and arrest anyone they want on any other day.

Another sticking point is that Dropzone Security was practicing security without a business license. That's correct, Joe Miller hired a rogue, unlicensed security firm for his event. Depending on the laws of the state, this may in fact be a crime, and Dropzone is also in violation of the law. The IRS might also be interested look into the fact that this company has been operating a for-profit venture without a license for almost a year now. And hopefully Mr. Miller's accounts are in order as well, as to how he was actually paying this fly-by-night outfit. Regardless, the fact that Dropzone security no longer exists in the eyes of the law invalidates all authority of Dropzone security personnel and their contractual agreements. Now if each individual was contracted to Joe Miller directly, then we would have to look at their individual security licenses, and their personal contract agreement with him. That would also mean, that they were acting as private bodyguards, and not as event security staff, which also mean that they had no authority to make an arrest based in trespassing.

A little sidebar here for a moment. The authority of a security guard emanates from what some may call a citizen's arrest, or a private person's arrest as it is called in Alaska. This means that anyone can arrest anyone else if they witness that person commit a crime. If you contract to perform this task on behalf of another person or organization, this is called practicing security, and requires a license issued by the state. So contracting without a license is illegal, but you still have a right as a citizen to make an arrest when you witness a crime. So then, could these security guards have still made the arrest then, even if the contract with their employer was invalid? No, because as we said, the event lease only covered the stage, cafeteria, and parking lot, therefore the crime of trespass did not in fact occur. At that point, only an authorized representative of the school district could have validated such a charge.

Now back to the identity of the security guards. Each individual failed to identify themselves, to properly display or to provide on demand their Alaska state license to practice security, to identify the company they were working for, or to otherwise state by what authority the arrest was being made. As if that weren't bad enough, as it turns out, two of the guards that assisted in the arrest and tried to prevent reporters from filming the detention, are active duty soldiers of the United States Army, 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade at Fort Richardson. That's correct, the United States Army has now become directly involved in bullying and detaining reporters in public for political reasons. It should be noted however, that public information officer Maj. Bill Coppernoll has stated the soldiers did not have permission from their current command to work for Dropzone. That point of course could further complicate the validity of the arrest, and strengthen the case for a counter-suit of false imprisonment if Hopfinger should he decide to prosecute.

In short, the press is being bullied, detained, and accused of committing criminal activity by members of the U.S. Army on behalf of a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, after daring to ask questions about that candidate's improper use of public resources for partisan political activity. Brilliant.


SUBJECT: Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces on Active Duty

b. A member on AD shall not:

(1) Use his or her official authority or influence for interfering with an election; affecting the course or outcome of an election; soliciting votes for a particular candidate or issue; or requiring or soliciting political contributions from others.

(3) Participate in partisan political management, campaigns, or conventions.

Having active-duty military forces participate in partisan politics is un-democratic to say the least. Soldiers tieing up journalists on behalf of political candidates is so far over the line that it really calls into question just exactly what sort of country have we become. And what sort of candidate for the Senate would come out to emphatically support what happened? The true nature of of the Tea Party is revealed to be more authoritarian and fascist in practice than the “small government, pro-constitution” soundbites they offer up to the media. Yes, this is Joe Miller, Tea Party favorite. He refuses to speak to the press outside of carefully staged engagements, and uses the United States Army to threaten and imprison journalists in public should they dare to ask questions outside of his campaign format.

PhotobucketAlaska Dispatch editor detained at Miller event

Miller bodyguards at forum included active-duty soldiers

Breaking news from “Sarah Palin's Alaska”

1 comment:

  1. Alaska candidate’s ‘security’ firm allegedly tied to extremist militia...



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