Judge Thomas Anderle has dismissed a lawsuit filed against the City of Santa Barbara, police chief Cam Sanchez, and police spokesperson Sgt. Riley Harwood by 10 people who claim they were the victims of slander and emotional distress when they were named in an ongoing gang suppression operation and when their mugshots were displayed during a November 2013 press conference on the crackdown. The ruling also allows the city to recover its attorney’s fees.
The defendants were represented by Los Angeles attorney James Segall-Gutierrez, who argued none of his clients were active gang members, and that they had only been charged with infractions or misdemeanors. Segall-Gutierrez took issue with how Sanchez characterized Operation Falling Dawn’s 68 arrestees as gang members or gang affiliates, describing them instead as upstanding young Latinos part of Santa Barbara’s working class. He said their inclusion in the press conference and police and court filings had negative impacts on their jobs and relationships. In a claim filed ahead of the lawsuit, Segall-Gutierrez sought in excess of $1 million per client. He didn’t return an immediate request for comment.
Anderle’s ruling granted a motion by the city commonly known as an Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) motion, “which allows the court to summarily dismiss a lawsuit in its early stages if the lawsuit arises from a defendant’s exercise of the First Amendment rights of petition and free speech,” the city attorney’s office described in a prepared statement. In his ruling, Anderle wrote that “criminal gang activity and police operations to suppress criminal gang activity are matters in which the public is interested.”