Two ACT UP/San Francisco Members Convicted of Disturbing the Peace
Two members of the "dissident" AIDS group ACT UP/San Francisco were convicted last Tuesday of disturbing the peace during an Aug. 9 Board of Supervisors' Finance and Labor Committee meeting when they sprayed city Public Health Director Dr. Mitchell Katz with "Silly String," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. A jury found Jason (Todd) Swindell guilty of misdemeanor charges and of violating a restraining order to stay away from Judy Leahy of the AIDS service group Project Inform, who was attending the meeting. Swindell was found not guilty of resisting arrest, and the jury "deadlocked" on battery and public meeting disturbance charges. David Pasquarelli was also found guilty of disturbing the peace but was acquitted of battery charges and of violating a similar restraining order, as he said he was unaware of Leahy's presence at the meeting. The jury "hung" on charges that Pasquarelli disturbed a public meeting and resisted arrest. Pasquarelli faces a maximum of 90 days in jail or probation, while Swindell may be jailed for up to one year for violating the restraining order. Both sides called the "mixed verdict" a victory in the "battle between dissident activists and the city over the former group's "tactics of disrupting AIDS-related meetings." Despite his conviction, Pasquarelli said of the verdict, "It's a total win in our court. They accused us of violence and battery, and the jury found us not guilty on both counts. The jury saw this for what it is: a case of criminalizing debate and silencing AIDS dissent." But District Attorney Terence Hallinan was also "pleased" by the verdict, saying, "The defense attorneys argued that it was only a momentary disruption, but the verdicts showed the jury did understand the issue that this was an attempt to interfere with the city's AIDS program." Martin Delaney, Project Inform founding director, added, "It's clear that now not only judges but juries won't tolerate disruptions at meetings, and assault cases will be interpreted as violence" (Derbeken/Heredia, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/23).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.