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Court Upholds Nunchakus’ Use by Police : Abortion furor: A judge rules that the martial-arts tool is a valid way to deal with mass protest. Police and abortion rights advocates hail the decision. Abortion opponents call it a ‘miscarriage of justice.’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Only days before a new round of rallies are scheduled at San Diego abortion clinics, a federal magistrate has approved the San Diego Police Department’s controversial policy of using martial-arts nunchakus and other pain-compliance techniques against anti-abortion demonstrators.

In a ruling made public Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Roger McKee decided that the department policy permitting the use of the nunchakus , a simple tool made up of two sticks and a cord, is fully legal.

City officials and advocates for abortion rights praised the ruling as a validation of Police Chief Bob Burgreen’s discretion to create policy to deal with mass protest. But abortion foes, preparing for a weeklong campaign of prayer vigils due to begin Friday, said the order was misdirected.

“I think it’s a shame, a miscarriage of justice, to use torture tools on nonresponsive demonstrators,” said Susan Odom, a spokeswoman for the California Coalition for Life, a Garden Grove-based umbrella group for opponents of abortion.

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The organization is coordinating the rallies planned for this week and next at clinics around the state, including six San Diego clinics.

Frank Devaney, a deputy San Diego city attorney, said McKee’s ruling stands as validation for Burgreen and the sensitive decisions involved in crafting crowd control policies.

“The import . . . is that it gives the police chief discretion, weighing his experience and resources, about how to run his department,” Devaney said.

With abortion opponents about to embark on a new series of well-publicized rallies, police said the ruling is gratifying.

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“It just reaffirms our belief in the nunchakus , that it is a viable use of force that doesn’t go beyond what’s necessary,” said San Diego Police Capt. Kraig Kessler, who heads the unit in charge of planning for and patrolling the new round of rallies.

McKee’s ruling came in the case of six abortion foes who sued San Diego police, alleging the use of excessive force in clearing 175 protesters demonstrating April 8, 1989, at a Hillcrest clinic.

Each of the six demonstrators has asked for $1.5 million in damages, or $9 million total, Devaney said.

McKee made it plain that his ruling only upheld the police policy as constitutional. He left the issue of whether excessive force was used on the protesters for a trial--though city attorney Devaney said Wednesday that the ruling might avert more court action.

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“It took the heart out of (the case), as far as I’m concerned,” Devaney said. “I don’t think you can pin (liability on) an individual patrolman for following orders.”

Lloyd Tooks, attorney for the six protesters, did not return a call seeking comment.

McKee also said that the protesters misunderstood the police policy. The protesters claimed that the policy required the use of pain compliance techniques. That was false, McKee said, adding that the policy allows pain-compliance use but did not mandate it.

An officer was permitted to use either nunchakus , or standard wrist holds that cause pain, when abortion opponents refused to obey an order to clear a clinic’s premises, McKee said. The policy bars individual officers from physically dragging or carrying protesters away from demonstrations, McKee said.

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Police typically wrap nunchakus around a protester’s ankles and wrists, which can cause severe pain. The tool consists of two 12-inch lengths of hard plastic connected by 4 inches of nylon cord. Martial arts movie star Bruce Lee popularized it in America.

In June, the Los Angeles Police Department agreed to discontinue using nunchakus against abortion protesters, saying it was concerned--in light of the March 3 beating of motorist Rodney King--about public perceptions of the use of force by police.

San Diego police have no plans to discontinue the use of nunchakus, Kessler said. The agency, he said, is hopeful that the upcoming week’s rallies will be peaceful--and the nunchakus will remain in their cases.

“We’ve been contacted by both the pro-life and pro-choice groups, and we’re working with them--we want to ensure that both sides’ rights are upheld,” he said.

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He added moments later, “We will use the nunchakus if it becomes necessary. We don’t want to have to resort to nunchakus , but if it becomes necessary, we will.”

The rallies--part of what organizers have dubbed “Turn the Hearts California"--are scheduled to be held outside clinics in San Diego, La Mesa, San Ysidro, Poway and San Marcos, said local coordinator Connie Youngkin. The rallies are part of a weeklong series of vigils outside about 100 clinics around the state, organizers said Wednesday.

Demonstrators will drop their protest signs in favor of prayer vigils at the clinics, whenever they are open from Saturday through Aug. 24.

On Aug. 24, abortion opponents plan a prayer vigil outside only one of the six clinics, the Womancare Clinic in Hillcrest, Youngkin said. “We are going to be very, very peaceful,” she said.

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Ashley E. Phillips, executive director of Womancare Clinic, said Youngkin has personally assured her that the rallies will be peaceful. But, Phillips said, “We have experienced assurances of peace in the past that have been broken. Therefore, we’re hopeful that the prayer vigil will be quiet. But we are prepared for the worst.”


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