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California

Lawyer accused of threatening L.A. council president files claims against the city

Herb Wesson
Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson at Los Angeles City Hall.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A man arrested on suspicion of making a threat against Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson has filed two legal claims against the city, saying his civil rights were violated.

Encino resident Wayne Spindler was apprehended by Los Angeles Police Department officers a month ago after he turned in a City Hall public comment card featuring a racist epithet and a drawing of a man being lynched.

Spindler has not been charged and police say their investigation into the incident is continuing. In legal claims filed in recent weeks, Spindler said the city violated both his right to free speech and the state’s open meeting law.

The two claims, which are the first step before the filing of a lawsuit, seek at least $775,000 in damages. Spindler, 46, also alleges that he was a victim of a false arrest and forced to post an “excessive” amount of bail.

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“The city manufactured a false arrest against someone who was engaging in his protected 1st Amendment rights,” he said in an interview. “Free speech is being able to appear before your government, and criticize your government, without being retaliated against.”

Rob Wilcox, spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer, said Spindler’s claims are “currently under review.”

Spindler, an attorney and frequent City Hall critic, was arrested May 13 on suspicion of a felony count of making a criminal threat. Two days earlier, he submitted a comment card to Wesson that featured the N-word and several drawings in marker, including one showing a burning cross.

Wesson, the council’s first black president, was chairing a council committee at the time. He responded by holding a news conference where he said he viewed Spindler’s message as a potential threat to himself, his family and the city workforce.

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“It is not OK to do that to me,” Wesson said at the time. “It is not OK to do that to us in the year 2016. And when I’m talking about us, I’m talking about all of us -- white, yellow, black and brown.”

Wesson said the images on Spindler’s speaker card rekindled memories of stories told by his grandparents about klansmen “running through the South terrorizing black people.”

Spindler, in turn, compared his drawings to cartoons in the French publication Charlie Hebdo, and argued that the image of a man hanging from a tree by a noose represented residents being “lynched” by higher rates at the city’s electrical utility.

Wesson’s office declined to comment Wednesday on the two claims filed by Spindler.

In the wake of the May incident, the city’s lawyers obtained a restraining order barring Spindler from coming near Wesson’s home, vehicle or city office. The order allows Spindler to continue testifying at council meetings, but required him to give up four firearms, including an AK-47, as well as ammunition, according to a court document.

“Free speech is one thing,” Feuer said. “What happened here is something else entirely.  Restraining orders protect the public by requiring subjects to turn in their firearms. In this case, that included relinquishing an assault rifle. That’s the safe -- and right -- result.”

Federal courts have ruled in recent years that members of the public cannot be removed from council meetings simply for uttering curse words or hateful invective. The city can act, however, when a member of the public disrupts a meeting.

Two years ago, the city paid $215,000 to a Venice resident who sued after he was ejected from a city commission meeting. The man, who is black, had been wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood and a T-shirt featuring a racial slur used against African Americans.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

Twitter: @davidzahniser

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