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Tool with blade confiscated from gadfly at public meeting

Tool with blade confiscated from gadfly at public meeting
Armando Herman attended a City Council committee meeting carrying a stuffed bear dressed in a swastika-decorated hood. (Peter Jamison / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles City Council's tortured dealings with a troupe of antagonistic gadflies took another strange turn Tuesday, as police confiscated a tool with a blade from a masked man who frequently appears at public meetings to berate council members.

The incident took place during a morning meeting of the council's Public Safety Committee. Los Angeles Police Capt. Vito Palazzolo said an officer noticed the item — a device about 2 inches long with a retractable blade — on Armando Herman, who was attending the meeting carrying a stuffed bear dressed in a swastika-decorated hood.

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Palazzolo said Herman was "apologetic" and told the officer he hadn't realized he was carrying the device. No arrest was made, although Herman was kicked out of the meeting soon afterward for dancing in the aisle and waving the teddy bear.

Herman, who regularly harangues council members with obscenity-laced monologues during public comment periods, is part of a small group of gadflies whose invective has tested the bounds of free speech in recent years.

In 2014, the city paid $215,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a black Venice resident who was ejected from a meeting for wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood and a shirt with a racist slur.

City lawyers also recently obtained a restraining order against another frequent visitor to the council, Encino lawyer Wayne Spindler, who was arrested last month on suspicion of making a racist threat against Council President Herb Wesson.

No charges have been filed against Spindler, who was taken into custody after he turned in a City Hall public comment card with the N-word and a drawing of a lynching and a burning cross.

After that incident, Spindler filed legal claims against the city for $775,000, saying he was the victim of false arrest and was denied his right to free speech. He has asserted that the drawings were satirical and that the hanging figure was meant to represent L.A. residents being "lynched" by higher water and power rates.

Reappearing at another council meeting Tuesday wearing a death's head mask and still carrying his stuffed bear, Herman said the tool is for opening boxes and that he voluntarily gave it to police. He said he was being harassed by city officials and likened Spindler's case to his own.

"Look what they did to Wayne Spindler," Herman said. "I'm in the same category as him."

Times staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.

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