Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Brian Hill sentenced Asaye Allah to a $250 fine Thursday, nearly five months after a Santa Barbara jury found her guilty of a misdemeanor charge of obstructing a police officer. Allah can do community service in-lieu of the payment. Hill’s comments at the conclusion of the trial indicated he didn’t believe the crime warranted jail time, and he supported that belief with his decision Tuesday. Deputy District Attorney Paula Waldman indicated her office won’t retry Allah’s friend, Meron Meshesha, who was also present at the scene and charged with obstructing and delaying police officers. The jury was hung, 11-1 in favor of conviction, in her case which was heard simultaneously.
Hill’s decision, however, probably won’t dampen a civil lawsuit filed by Allah and Meshesha against the city and 16 law enforcement officers from the Santa Barbara Police Department. The suit – listing 18 complaints for damages, including allegations of suppression of free speech, a conspiracy to interfere with civil rights, battery, excessive force, negligence, and unlawful arrest – had been dismissed pending the outcome of the trial. While Gary Casselman, the Los Angeles attorney representing the two women, said they were still considering their options, the civil case really wouldn’t be affected by the outcome for two reasons. One is the dismissal of the case against Meshesha, who alleges the more serious police misconduct, including the allegation that she was dragged along the ground by police, causing her top to come down and expose her breasts. The other reason is that the alleged police misconduct came after Allah was arrested, and is a separate issue from whether or not she committed a crime.
The trial took nearly a month, much longer than many local defense attorneys and prosecutors can remember a misdemeanor trial taking. Though just a misdemeanor, Casselman said there was no question why so many resources went into the case in the first place. “I don’t believe they did anything wrong,” he said. “I don’t think this case should’ve ever been brought. This was about protecting the police department against a civil case. The police are always trying to blame someone else for their trouble.” Hill also hinted that the civil suit may have been the reason for the vigorous prosecution. Casselman had argued for a retrial, but his motion was denied by Hill. “The case called for some effort to settle it,” Hill said, adding he was “perplexed the case has consumed so many resources.”
The charges stem from an incident outside of Cooney’s Nightclub (now EOS) as the club was letting out in the early morning hours of June 16, 2006, when a man was punched by another man. The knockout, prosecutors said, incited the large crowd, which hurled insults at the officers and demanded they help the man on the ground. Meshesha, who testified she was helping the man who was punched and lying unconscious on the sidewalk, Reggie Smith, was arrested after running into and allegedly grabbing Officer Andre Feller’s arm, Feller testified. Meshesha said she never heard Feller’s instructions to back away. Allah was arrested a few minutes later, when the emotional crowd was surging into a police line that had been formed. Allah testified she was trying to help clear the area and get her friends out. She testified that she heard orders to get back, but after being pushed down a couple of times, remained where she was to direct people out. While she may had been trying to help, which some jurors agreed she was trying to do, she wasn’t obeying orders by several officers to get back. Jurors said that because Allah admitted on the stand to have heard the orders, but did not back up and clear the area herself, they found her guilty.
Waldman explained to the court that she dropped the case against because enough money and resources had been spent on the case, and that the trial was “never about a penalty and punishment” but that Meshesha learned a lesson that she must obey and abide by police commands. As for Allah, Waldman recommended that she serve a day in jail and serve 80 hours of community service, and pay a fine. The maximum sentence she could have faced was one year in county jail and a $1,000 fine. While the defense labeled Allah as a leader, Waldman said, trouble comes when leadership is not used in an appropriate manner. Allah should also pay the price for taking the stand and lying, she suggested. “Sometimes good kids do bad things,” Waldman said.
Casselman intends to appeal the decision.