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Criminal Justice

Sheriff Denies Permit for Protest Against LASD, Raising 1st Amendment Concerns

Sheriff’s deputies shoot projectiles and pepper balls on June 21 at demonstrators protesting the death of Andres Guardado.
(Brian Feinzimer
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The L.A. Sheriff’s Department has refused to issue a permit to a group seeking to protest killings and unnecessary use of force by deputies in South L.A., leading the ACLU and a local First Amendment expert to raise free speech concerns.

The denial also prompted an unusual appeal to the County Board of Supervisors to overturn the sheriff’s decision.

The communist Revolution Club filed a permit application for a June 12 march from Southwest College to the South L.A. Sheriff’s station. It said a sound truck would lead the procession, and asked for rolling street closures during the approximately two-mile march.

In a letter to the group, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva stated two reasons for denying the permit.

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'That Seems Pretty Outrageous'

First, he said the South L.A. station “does not have a sufficient number of patrol deputies” to assign to the march without “inhibiting normal police protection” for the rest of the area.

“That seems pretty outrageous,” said Susan Seagar, a lawyer who specializes in the First Amendment and teaches at UC Irvine. If the Sheriff lacked such resources, it would mean he would have to deny every protest permit in the area, she said.

The Sheriff’s Department has more than 9,000 deputies.

The South L.A. station was a hotbed of protests last summer in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the deputy killings of Andres Guardado and Dijon Kizzee. Those protests were cited as the second reason for denying the permit.

“Demonstrations within the last year at South LA Station became unruly, which ultimately resulted in injury to persons and property,” Villanueva wrote, although he did not tie any of that behavior to the Revolution Club.

If he is concerned about possible bad behavior, the sheriff could place restrictions on the protest, such as the time and route, Seager said. She called the sheriff’s denial “arbitrary and capricious.”

The Sheriff’s Department declined to comment beyond Villanueva’s letter.

The Revolution Club has appealed Villanueva’s decision to the Board of Supervisors, asking it to overrule him and issue a permit.

"The applicant’s allegation that the L.A. Sheriff’s Department denied their request to peacefully protest police violence and shootings is concerning"
and will be discussed at next Tuesday's supervisors meeting if it isn't addressed before then, board Chair Hilda Solis said in an email.

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In a letter to the board, the ACLU of Southern California said the Sheriff’s denial was unconstitutional and suggested it was the result of bias.

“This arbitrary and unreasoned denial is particularly suspect in the context of what appears to be growing and blatant anti-protest sentiment within LASD,” attorneys Zoe McKinney and Sari Zureiqat wrote. “We are concerned that this permit denial represents another effort to delegitimize and suppress protest and criticism of law enforcement, which the First Amendment unambiguously protects.”

Regardless of whether it gets a permit, the Revolution Club says it plans to go ahead with its June 12 march.