– Settlement discussions are underway in the civil rights
lawsuit against a group of demonstrators charged with allegedly
assaulting a downtown business owner, but neither side appears
willing to give much ground.
Hollister – Settlement discussions are underway in the civil rights lawsuit against a group of demonstrators charged with allegedly assaulting a downtown business owner, but neither side appears willing to give much ground.
District Attorney John Sarsfield filed suit against Freedom Rally leader Marvin Jones and his wife Reba in January. The suit alleges that Jones violated a business owner’s civil rights by pushing her up against a wall during an argument last year about the placement of picket signs in front of her business. Jones heads the group that demonstrates for the support of United States troops every Friday on San Benito Street. The suit also alleges that Reba Jones told the business owner, who is of Hispanic-Chinese-American descent, to “go back where you came from.” Jones and his wife have repeatedly denied the allegations. Each could face $25,000 in fines if the case is upheld in court and be banned from picketing in front of the alleged victim’s business. The alleged victim, who was is not identified in the lawsuit, owns a tax preparation company near where the Freedom Rally group protests.
Although both Sarsfield and defense attorney George Barton, who represents the protest leaders, want to settle the case out of court, but talks have stalled over the issue of fines. Barton said his client would be willing to apologize to the alleged victim, but said he would not pay any fines. Sarsfield offered a settlement deal in the case two weeks ago, but Barton rejected the offer. The terms of the offer have not been released. Barton said Sarsfield’s initial offer was not “made in good faith.”
“If the first settlement offer is any indication of where the district attorney wants to go with this, then we’re not going to settle,” Barton said. “My client didn’t do anything wrong. (The alleged victim) may have felt her peace was disturbed, if that is the case, Mr. Jones would apologize for that.”
Sarsfield said more than an apology was needed from Jones and his wife.
“They will either admit what they did was wrong and racially motivated or we’re going to trial. And they are going to pay or we’re going to trial,” he said. “That’s the only way to stop this kind of behavior. The days when a bunch of bigots could go running around and harassing people are over.”
Jones, a former president of the San Benito County Republican Central Committee, has denied wrongdoing in the case. Jones also said he did not know the alleged victim was a minority.
“This has nothing to do with immigration or race. She looks just like everyone else in town. I couldn’t tell the difference. Most of the Hispanics in town look the same way as people in Kentucky do with a suntan,” said Jones, who hails from Kentucky.
Jones also claims the suit is politically motivated. He believes the suit was brought in retaliation for his support of a failed recall effort against the district attorney. Sarsfield denies the allegation.
The two parties are scheduled to meet again May 4 for further settlement talks, but neither side appears willing to concede. If an agreement cannot be reached, the case will go before a jury. A trial date has not been set.
The lawsuit requests a restraining order prohibiting the defendants from coming within 30 yards of the alleged victim. Jones and members of the Freedom Rally group meet weekly on the northwest corner of San Benito and Fourth Streets to demonstrate their support for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. An anti-war group meets on the opposite corner. If Sarsfield proves that both Jones and his wife violated the victim’s civil rights, they would be banned from demonstrating on the corner where they have picketed for the last three years.
Although the incident was reported to Hollister police last December, investigation stopped after the alleged victim told police she did not want to press charges. Sarsfield said the woman brought the matter to his attention because she was displeased with the police department’s response. The alleged victim was unavailable for comment.
Brett Rowland covers public safety for the Free Lance. He can be reached at 831-637-5566 ext. 330 or [email protected]