What happens when law enforcement holds a personal grudge against a citizen? The answer is the violation of constitutional rights.
Take the case of Shawn Green’s “”Campin’ Trip”” back in 1997. This event was billed as a two-day event with reggae, hip-hop, rock ‘n’ roll, jazz and dance music. The festival included international foods and arts, pro skateboard demos, inline skate and bike vertical ramps demos, laser shows, and the amenities of the Stage Coach Trails RV Park, which included pools, volleyball courts and camping.
The event was meant to be peaceful and orderly and was to be held in the small community of Shelter Valley, near Julian.
If the event was a success, Green would then try to create an annual event at the site.
As a law-abiding citizen who had faith in law enforcement, Green went to every length to run the event completely within the letter of the law, doing whatever was asked of him in order to facilitate working with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department. He went through the proper channels to obtain all the required permits and tried to address the concerns of the community members of the area.
The event was illegally shut down by sheriff’s deputies, and at the core of this action was a local deputy’s personal quest to see that his community was kept free of “”undesirable”” elements, regardless of the legality of his own actions. These are the accounts of a citizen’s right to party.
Six months prior to the event and slated for Sept. 20 to Sept. 21, Green brought his intentions to the County of San Diego. He sat down with resident deputies and the proprietor of the facility and expressed his desires for the event.
“”The immediate response out of the deputies, especially resident Deputy Ralph Rinder, was that this constituted a rave,”” Green recounted. “”And the County of San Diego would not tolerate any raves, but nevertheless, they gave me the name and number of the permitting department and the people I had to talk to in order to legalize the event.””
Green describes the process of moving through official channels as “”the daunting task of facing probably 12 to 15 different agencies, with unknown delays trying to discourage me from doing the event.””
His frustrations began because “”others who were doing similar events didn’t have to go through the same hurdles that I had to.””
Furthermore, Green says that “”the sheriff’s department did not want the festival, and I always felt there was communication between the sheriff’s department and the permitting department.””
Hostility arose among a small section of the community, who were friends with the local sheriff’s deputies, as they felt that Green was going to attract “”undesirables”” because he was bringing hip-hop and reggae musical acts. They were concerned that he could not control 5,000 to 10,000 “”unruly”” patrons, who would bring out-of-control drug use, drunk driving, property destruction and disrespect for the community as a whole.
Green says he was seen as an outsider bringing in big city attitudes to a small community. Yet Green maintained that “”any business owner has the right to run a business anywhere, as long as it is done legally and with the proper permits.””
Green found that he was bringing in a festival welcomed by the majority, but a minority was opposed. That minority had the connections to law enforcement agencies through local deputies, whom they were agitating. Nevertheless, Green continued to complete the required permits and move forward with the planning and booking of the event.
About a month before the concert, there was so much hostility from a group of about 10 families that Green volunteered to go to a town meeting in Shelter Valley where the party was to take place.
On Aug. 6, 1997 he attended the meeting, which was the largest in the history of Shelter Valley. Green’s aim was “”to address the issues and concerns of the citizens.”” The meeting was quickly turned into what he describes as a “”witch hunt.””
He recalls the attitudes of the townspeople as “”Who the fuck are you coming out to our town, bringing a rock concert, a punk concert, an acid-rock concert?”” He found that the event was being labeled everything but what it was. The residents tried to point out that Green could not control the “”undesirable people”” and that he could not keep the patrons within the camping site.
Green continued to petition the County of San Diego and the sheriff’s department, reminding them that the majority of people wanted the event to continue as planned. However, there were a few who could not be satisfied.
Despite the opposition, Green had done everything to ensure a safe and legal event for the patrons and the community members alike. During that time, Render continued to refer to the event as a rave.
“”Coming up to the date of the event, I continued to receive information that the event was still being referred to as a rave,”” Green said. “”So finally I called the deputy at home, but it was to the point that I thought it was going to damage the event. I didn’t want people thinking it was a rave, and also it put law enforcement in a position that meant I would be doing something illegally.””
Green tried to plead his case rationally.
“”Look, what you’re doing to me is wrong,”” Green said. “”You cannot label my event a rave, because it’s not a rave. Doing so will cost me money and damage the event’s attendance.””
Green recalls Rinder response: “”Well, Mr. Green, that’s my feeling, and regardless of what you tell me, I think that this event is a rave. But if you can jump through all the hurdles, and that’s IF you can, then you can have your party.””
As things proceeded, the motions of legality were upheld.
“”A couple weeks before the event I was introduced to Sgt. Ken Prue, incident commander over the whole event, meaning that he was going to supervise all the deputies, the patrolling and the responses to the event,”” Green said. “”I was told by Prue, who treated me as a professional, that [law enforcement officials] cannot and would not come onto the site. Furthermore, that if I needed any assistance from the Sheriff’s Department, that I need to call a certain number.””
Green saw this as a turnaround in the process of getting the festival put on.
“”I felt that was great,”” he said. “”I felt really good about everything, and despite Rinder, I thought I was developing a relationship with the sheriff’s department that would ensure no interference with the event, and that would be helpful in the future.””
Green went on to discus safety plans for the event.
“”I informed Prue that I was bringing in Elite Security from Qualcomm Stadium and that I would have 40-plus guards on duty during the concert. As attendance grew, we would bring more security members onto the site to ensure the safety of all.””
The response from Prue indicated that this was fine. He reiterated that law enforcement could not and would not go to the event site; that Green and Elite Security would be the eyes and ears of the sheriff’s department.
This greatly pleased Green, as he says, “”because if I display a safe event, and did everything by the books, then the next go-around of getting permits wouldn’t be such a difficult task.””
DAY 1 of the Campin’ Trip Festival
Saturday, Sept. 20, 1997:
The gates officially opened at noon, but some people, between 200 and 300, had been waiting since the night before. People had driven long distances. Green heard of people coming from “”as far as Salt Lake City, Utah, to enjoy the festival,”” which was uplifting news for Green. “”It looked really good. There was a great response from the people waiting in line,”” he said.
Noon to 4 p.m.:
There were more than 150 cars arriving every hour, with an average of three to four patrons per vehicle. Most had camping gear, and Green noted their demeanor as “”very positive, very excited about the event. The music was going, we had three stages — it was a really nice day. Everything, for me as a promoter, was just coming together seamlessly, and that feeling was incredible.””
Smooth operation was especially important when there were so many elements and issues on the line, including multiple bands over two days, vendors and performers.
After 4 p.m.:
It was around 4 p.m. that a person came to Green, highly agitated and rattled. He informed Green that at the last turn onto the last road (Stage Coach Road), sheriff’s deputies and border patrol agents had set up a roadblock and checkpoint.
This was set up as a search for illegal immigrants, but the exit off Stage Coach Road heads south, not north, going against the reasoning for that excuse. People were being pulled out of their cars without their consent, patted down, their belongings removed and searched and drug dogs were being taken into the cars.
The officials were turning people away, saying the event was canceled, or sold out, or that tickets were $50 and parking $25. The rumors and lies were endless.
So many people had respect for law enforcement, as did Green at that time, that they believed what they were told, turned around and went home. From the time that Green was informed of the situation, attendance was directly affected. After 4 p.m., attendance went from 150-plus vehicles every hour to a dismal 20 to 30. Green realized that “”with headliner acts going on at 9, 10, and 11, if this traffic flow continues, then I’m a bust financially. It’s over!””
“”Not surprisingly, he said, “”it never got better at all.””
Some did continue to pass through, but the flow stayed at about five to seven cars every 15 minutes.
“”Those that did make it through and were able to perceive enough to get to our gate came into contact with law enforcement at the check point, went through the experience and continued on, only because they did not believe what they were told by law enforcement,”” Green said. “”Mostly, this is because they had some kind of personal connection with the event and did not hear that it was canceled, so they wanted to see for themselves.””
Others made it through the checkpoint because law enforcement was so busy with vehicle searches that the cars were able to slip through without notice. More interesting is that there were those, like Green’s father, whom Green said “”looked conservative enough, as a white male in a Jeep Grand Cherokee, that he was allowed to go through without any sort of search.””
“”Ninety percent of the people at that check point were subjected to illegal searches,”” Green estimated.
While all this was happening at the checkpoint, deputies started to enter the facility on dirt bikes, contrary to what they had said would happen. Then they entered and occupied the event site for 14 consecutive hours. They raced around the park, kicking up dirt and breaking the 5 mph speed limit. Rather than driving in any sort of safe manner, they maintained speeds of 20 to 30 mph throughout the park and around people.
In what Green believes were attempts to intimidate, deputies were staring down patrons, coming into contact with people and upsetting everyone. As people later testified in court, they were made to feel very uncomfortable and always had to watch out for the reckless deputies.
Prue and several other deputies came into the site with Ford Broncos and patrol cars, all of this without the necessary consent of Green, which was directly the opposite of what he had been told by officials.
Green was left to ask himself, “”What is going on?””
“”I am being betrayed for what I had done, and the efforts I have put into this event,”” Green answered. “”What I was told by the sheriff’s department was not the truth, and they had some kind of goal, some kind of plan to destroy the event by way of their ‘checkpoint,’ and by way of their harassment.””
Green tried to continue with the event, but while people were performing, the sheriff’s helicopter did multiple fly-overs “”at what I estimate to be an altitude of about 300 to 400 feet, which is extremely low.””
At this height, debris and dust were kicked up constantly into the crowd and onto the stage. Green began to get reports from the bands about feedback in monitors and of being completely drowned out by the helicopter.
The extreme noise and its problems helped to push Green over the edge. “”I just threw up my hands and realized that this was a disaster,”” he said. “”There was nothing I can do but try and continue my responsibilities as a promoter.””
The strong-arm tactics began to weigh more heavily on the event and on Green as people began to take their frustrations out on him.
The endless question of “”Why?”” was central: “”Why can’t you do something about the check point?””
“”Why can’t you do something about the deputies?””
“”Why can’t you do something about the helicopter?””
“”Why are we being treated this way by law enforcement?””
With $15,000 worth of bands to perform on Sunday, not a single deputy or border patrol agent was in sight.
“”The damage had been done,”” Green said. “”They knew that Saturday night was the big push for attendance.””
And then on Sunday it was all over — no checkpoint, no one in the event site, nothing.
Time to pay the talent and the service providers, which brings a menacing realization to Green. He is over $80,000 in debt because the event’s attendance was so low.
“”I didn’t get anywhere near the attendance I needed,”” Green said. “”I needed 3,200 people to attend, but I had about 800 paid attendees.””
Green said that the border patrol testified that “”approximately 250 cars came through the check point every hour,”” which easily would have supplied Green more than the necessary attendance for a successful event.
In trying to figure out what legal action he could take against the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, Green attempted to obtain an attorney. It took several attempts before Green found Mike Marrinan, who was actually willing to put forth the effort needed and would not be intimidated by the authorities.
It would be three years before the case went before a judge. Then, after a mere three-week trial, with two days of deliberation, the jury would return a unanimous verdict: The San Diego Sheriff’s Department and the County of San Diego, with named sheriff’s deputies, primarily Prue, were found guilty of violating Green’s First and Fourth Amendment rights, along with state claims, including negligent interference with prospected economic advantage, and awarded the full $1.5 million, as requested by Marrinan.
The verdict was a decisive emotional victory for Green. “”It was incredible to know that what they did was wrong,”” he said.
The power of the verdict was also in the fact that the case was such a credibility contest between Green and San Diego law enforcement.
“”That’s what it boiled down to,”” Green said. “”Who did they believe? I mean, they put up 15 deputies, and the jury didn’t believe any of them.””
Post-trial motions were heard on March 26. Unsurprisingly, the County of San Diego has not admitted its guilt. The county is requesting a new trial and reductions in the verdict.
The countly also claims there was an error in allowing hearsay, and that cumulative damages were overlapping, so there should be only one award. Green and Marrinan have filed countermotions.
Now the judge is doing further research on the issue and should return his findings in the next few days. If all of the county’s motions are denied and the verdict is upheld, the county can try to settle with Green or take the case to the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court.
If the county’s motions are granted, Green has to face the financially and emotionally daunting task of taking the case to the next level of appeals, or trying to settle out of court.
Kevin Kennedy, a spokesman for the county and senior deputy county counsel member, told the Union-Tribune that “”The San Diego Sheriff’s Department handled itself professionally and appropriately …. The deputies did nothing wrong and they dispute that any illegal searches were conducted.””
Green feels that “”the county will most likely have [its] motions denied and the verdict upheld, which means they will come back and offer me most of the money to see if I’m willing to finish.””
Unsure of what his response will be, Green considers the possibility of spending two more years in the Court of Appeals, where anything can happen.
“”That’s a gamble,”” he said. “”You don’t want them to come back in favor of the county, or possibly award a new trial, which would mean finding all the people who previously testified and trying to get them to speak out again. Those people want to get on with their lives, and so do I.””
The prospect of ending the ordeal hangs heavily as Green considers whether he will take the money the County will inevitably offer.
“”The San Diego Sheriff’s Deputies were willing to pacify the few angry voices of Shelter Valley,”” he said. “”They knew that if the event was a success with the minimum estimated 5,000 to 10,000 people, as stated in my permit, I would hold subsequent events at Stage Coach Trails, and they absolutely did not want that.””
Now, after the trial, Green wonders “”why the county won’t honor a jury’s decision, and why they continue to waste taxpayers’ money to fight a fight that I feel is done and over.””
The jury foreman was a county employee, someone who would be concerned about the effect that his ruling might have on his job. However, the verdict still speaks of the level of misconduct that took place.
One has to keep in mind that Green was fully within the boundaries of the law. In fact, he should have been protected by the very people who sabotaged his event. They could not deny the permits, for all the requirements were met. Instead, the officers of the law took it upon themselves to interfere with the concert as it took place. When the people who are supposed to be enforcing laws can move outside the system, we suffer.
Though thankfully there were no losses of life because of the actions of law enforcement, the implication here is that those with power feel that they can do anything they want. This verdict, if upheld, could send a clear message to San Diego’s law enforcement that this is not a police state. To put this case in perspective, it is the largest verdict in the history of San Diego for Police Misconduct.
Green’s willingness to fight back against the brutality of police misconduct, and his refusal to be intimidated by government scare tactics, is a lesson for all of us. We must be ever vigilant for threats to our rights.
As Green said, “”The fight is for everybody in the county; my struggle is that of every promoter in the nation.”” The point is that injustice will harm us if we do not stand up against it.
“”I have a right, as validated by the verdict,”” Green said, “”that a concert promoter has a right to reach his intended audience, who have the right to attend his facility without government interference, which the check point was. My freedom of speech is in part, the bands that I book to perform, not just the words that I say. A promoter may have reasons for having a hip-hop act, or a reggae act, because it is a reflection of who they are.””
As proven now in federal court, police interference with a music concert just because they don’t like it or its attendees is illegal.
To Green, the ordeal sent the message “”So what? You have your permits, we’ll destroy you anyway.”” His adherence to legality is what has saved him after the fact.
“”If I hadn’t had the permits, I would have won nothing,”” Green said.
Ironically, Green thinks that he “”probably would have had a much better event if I had done it illegally, promoting and holding it underground style,”” which begs the question: What kind of actions are being encouraged? The legal and safe ones, or the underground and unregulated ones?
My final question to Green was this: Would he hold a similar event now that he is supported by the rulings?
“”I don’t know,”” Green said. “”I put my career on the line every time I have an event, and from the experiences with the police, I’m not sure that it wouldn’t happen again.””