San Diego Cops Who Abused Old 'Seditious Language' Law To Ticket Residents Also Engaged In Other Misconduct

from the lot-of-pretty-sketchy-looking-apples-in-here dept

A few months ago, Voice of San Diego reported cops in the city were ticketing people for the strangest crime: sedition. An old law no one had bothered to take off the books allowed officers to literally police speech. Despite several rulings showing using foul language or flipping the bird to cops is protected speech, cops in San Diego are abusing this bad law to ticket people for "contempt of cop," which isn't an actual crime anywhere.

"Seditious language" tickets have been handed out 83 times since 2013. The 1918 law has been used to ticket someone for singing a rap song's lyrics within earshot of a cop. One person was even ticketed in their own home for swearing a bit too much around officers. The only data on race shows 8 of 11 recipients of these tickets were black. (No race was noted on a majority of citations Voice of San Diego examined.)

If cops are willing to abuse a bad law to punish people for swearing around officers, they're willing to abuse their powers in other ways. Voice of San Diego has dug deeper into the "seditious language" citations and discovered further abuses by officers who are way too familiar with a law that should have been taken off the books decades ago.

Half of the San Diego Police Department officers who wrote more than one ticket for seditious language have also been accused during their careers of violating people’s rights, ranging from harassment to the arrest of peaceful protestors, a Voice of San Diego review has found. A third of those officers have also been involved in fatal or nonfatal shootings.

We'll see if things improve a bit. The city repealed the law shortly after VOSD's expose. But these officers' willingness to abuse bad laws and city residents equally indicates there are more deeply rooted problems in the San Diego Police Department that a repeal isn't going to fix.

One officer -- Michael Rojas -- issued two tickets to twin brothers at the same time back in 2015. One year later, he was caught on tape tackling and arresting protesters who appear to be complying with an order to disperse. This incident was recorded by another protester. Rojas was wearing a body camera but had not turned his on despite radioed orders to do so.

Officers who abused the law most often to punish people for protected speech appear to be habitual abusers.

Of the 54 SDPD officers who issued seditious language tickets, 18 gave out more than one, police records show. Of those 18, at least nine have been accused of misconduct, according to court files and news articles. Six were involved in fatal or nonfatal shootings.

So, why haven't these citations resulted in a Constitutional challenge? Well, they're citations. There's no prosecution involved. Recipients pay the fine and move on. Defense lawyers, prosecutors, and judges aren't involved. It bypasses most of the checks/balances that would have alerted PD officials and city lawmakers that something abusive was happening on their watch. And, since officers were technically enforcing the (bad) law, there's little that can be done to discipline them.

The good news is these cops don't have this law to abuse any more. But, unless someone is willing to address some other systemic issues, it won't end the abuse or the careers of those willing to cite people for saying things these cops don't like.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, abuse of power, police, police misconduct, san diego, san diego police department, sdpd, sedition, seditious language


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