Booing activist sues, saying Baldwin Park cops wrongfully arrested him after protest attempt

Booing activist sues, saying Baldwin Park cops wrongfully arrested him after protest attempt
Paul Cook, an attorney and activist, has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Baldwin Park that alleges he was falsely arrested, jailed and strip searched after he criticized a public official at a city park event last summer. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Essentially, Paul Cook says, he was taken away by a Baldwin Park cop for booing at a city official.

When he returned to the city's Morgan Park to exercise his right to protest, the lawyer and activist said he was arrested.


On Wednesday, Cook filed a civil rights lawsuit at the federal U.S. District courthouse in Los Angeles against Baldwin Park and a police officer, alleging his constitutional rights were violated, according to court records.

The complaint alleges that Cook's rights under both the 1st and 4th amendments were violated July 24 when Baldwin Park police arrested and jailed him. The suit claims he was also subjected to an unnecessary strip search.

"The officers arrested Mr. Cook solely because he was engaged in quintessential First Amendment activity: expressing his views on a city government official at an event open to the public held in a public park," the lawsuit reads in part.

Baldwin Park City Attorney Robert Tafoya said the lawsuit had no merit and that the city plans to defend itself vigorously.

"Baldwin Park looks forward to its day in court in order to prove that the Baldwin Park Police Department, and its officers, performed their lawful duties with the utmost professionalism when Mr. Cook was arrested for disrupting a public event," Tafoya said.

According to the lawsuit, Cook was at the park, where a city-sponsored event was being held for residents. Cook was distributing flyers "on a public matter" related to Manuel Carrillo Jr., the director of recreation and community services.

At least 300 people were at the event, which included booths from businesses and restaurants, speeches by public officials and performances at the Cesar E. Chavez Amphitheater.

At one point, Carrillo took the stage to assist the mayor and was booed twice by Cook, according to the lawsuit.

"Immediately after plaintiff booed, several officers approached him and told him that he could not speak," the suit stated. "Mr. Cook asserted his First Amendment right to express his views about a government official at a public event in a public park."

Cook began to walk away when a police officer, identified in the court document only as Lt. Harvey, grabbed his arm and escorted him to a street adjoining the park. The suit alleges that Harvey, who was acting as a police supervisor that day, told Cook he would arrest him if he returned to the park. Cook objected and was arrested when he reentered the park.

"After his arrest, Mr. Cook was taken to the city jail. Upon the arrival he was ordered to strip down to his underwear and then subjected to a tactile search by a female officer," the lawsuit read. "After being strip searched, Mr. Cook was placed in a cell by himself. He was held until the event at the park had ended."

The July 24 arrest was a turning point in an ongoing dispute between Cook and city officials.

The conflict stemmed from a pair of public records requests related to the city's finances and the city's boxing club program.

For months, Cook had been attending council meetings to pressure officials to respond to his inquiries. He also filed two lawsuits against the city when it failed to provide the records he had requested.


Four days after his arrest, under the advice of the city attorney, the mayor filed a temporary restraining order against Cook. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge later denied the request.

Cook responded by suing the mayor in small claims court for punitive damages related to the restraining order but did not prevail.

"Our country was born because revolutionaries leafleted through the streets," Cook said. "It's in our American tradition to talk back."

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