Security Tight for Jackson Hearing
Federal and local law enforcement authorities, already concerned that the long-awaited Michael Jackson arraignment would be a mob scene, now are preparing for possible disruptions ranging from unruly spectators to terrorist threats.
The scramble to tighten security is part of an overall flurry of activity that includes filings for a gag order to block comment on the case, what amounts to a summit meeting of Jackson’s top advisors this Monday, and a move by the pop star into a Beverly Hills chateau.
Jackson is scheduled to be arraigned Friday on seven felony counts of child molestation and two felony counts of using an intoxicant to seduce a minor.
The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department and the Santa Maria Police Department are the lead agencies in the anti-terrorist planning; they are working closely and sharing intelligence with the FBI and other agencies involved in homeland defense.
“All the agencies are talking with each other,” said Ed Miller, agent in charge of the FBI’s Santa Maria office. “It’s pretty obvious this has world attention, and we would be taking precautions in any significant case like this.”
In addition to the proposed gag order, Judge Rodney S. Melville, selected to preside over the case, will also hear arguments from a group of media organizations, including The Times, for unsealing the search and arrest warrants and affidavits kept secret since Jackson’s arrest.
Dist. Atty. Tom Sneddon initially was given a 45-day period for keeping the records sealed. In late December, he and defense lawyer Mark Geragos obtained a second court order to keep the documents sealed at least until the arraignment. Such documents typically are kept secret for 10 days.
Sneddon also has requested that Melville issue a strict gag order on all lawyers and other parties, which would prevent them from any further discussion of the case. In applying for the order, he relied heavily on a recent Jackson interview on the CBS news show “60 Minutes” in which the entertainer repeated protestations of his innocence and accusations of law enforcement brutality.
Geragos has called Sneddon’s gag order request hypocritical, pointing out that the district attorney himself has held news conferences and granted several exclusive interviews since Jackson’s arrest.
“My first impression after reading it is, some people have a short-term memory loss,” Geragos said. “I will file a response on Monday.”
Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., an attorney representing the media, also said he planned to oppose the gag order, saying the proposed motion was too broad and restrictive. “These orders must be narrowly tailored to ensure that the public is able to obtain accurate information and understand the proceedings,” he said.
While preparations for the Jackson arraignment include what officials view as an outside chance of terrorist activity, most officials are busier planning for an anticipated overflow crowd swarming the city’s small courthouse.
Court officials have reserved about 60 seats for the media and 60 for the public in the courtroom. Another courtroom will be available as an overflow room for both the media and the public.
The alleged victim in the case is a boy who appeared holding hands with Jackson on a television broadcast in February as the entertainer made the first of what has become a series of statements defending his practice of routinely sharing his bed with young boys.
Recently, Jackson has been living in a French chateau in Beverly Hills. The Times has learned he is renting the mansion for just under $100,000 a month with an option to buy it. Raymond Bekeris, the broker, has the property listed at $20 million if Jackson exercises the option.
The house, owned by a Chinese painter, sits on two acres. It has 37,000 square feet of space and includes 12 bedrooms, two bowling lanes, tennis courts and a cut crystal dining-room floor with a view of an indoor swimming pool below. It has parking for 50 cars.
Jackson was arrested Nov. 20 and released on $3-million bail. His passport was taken away, but then returned after arguments by Jackson that he had to go to England to promote his latest CD. Jackson never made the trip, however, and his passport has been returned to local prosecutors.
Since his arrest, Jackson has accused officials of wrecking his Neverland estate in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley, especially his bedroom, during a search by about 70 deputies. He has said he would never sleep in his bedroom again.
He also accused Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies of manhandling him during his arrest, saying they dislocated a shoulder, injured his arm and locked him for 45 minutes in a bathroom covered with feces. In response, an angry Sheriff Jim Anderson denied all the charges. The state attorney general’s office is investigating. Anderson said he would pursue a misdemeanor charge against Jackson for making a false report of brutality if the state found Jackson’s claims without merit.
In addition to all the other side issues in the case, there has been a continuing controversy on the question of whether the Nation of Islam, run by Louis Farrakhan, has begun to play an increased role in Jackson’s personal and business affairs.
On Monday, more than two dozen of Jackson’s advisors, bankers, accountants, managers and lawyers from around the country are expected to meet in Beverly Hills to continue discussions that have been held throughout the case.
“It’s like a board meeting for AOL Time Warner or something,” one invitee described it, disputing reports that the meeting was a public relations move to demonstrate that the Nation of Islam has not taken control of Jackson’s affairs.
“Maybe someone from the Nation of Islam will be there, but if they are, they’ll be just another person in the room,” the source said. “His lawyers are handling his legal case and the people on the financial and music business side are handling those things, and there’s not much to control beyond that.”
Times staff writers Shawn Hubler, Ruth Ryon and Richard Winton contributed to this report.