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Group of alleged petition 'blockers' arrested

Posted: May 1, 2014 5:25 p.m.
Updated: May 1, 2014 5:25 p.m.
 

Local sheriff’s deputies have arrested three more alleged petition “blockers” as the deadline approaches for petitioners seeking to overturn a city ordinance allowing electronic billboards, sheriff’s documents show.

On Tuesday, a store manager at the Walmart store on Kelly Johnson Parkway filed citizen’s arrests against three men from out of town for trespassing, two of whom told Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s deputies they were paid to block signature gathering. The did not disclose who paid them.

The arrests bring to seven the number of people charged with misdemeanor offenses for incidents that occurred during signature-gathering at local stores in just over a week, according to information maintained by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Inmate Information Center.

They were made after a customer complained to a store manager that she was harassed by men obstructing her entrance to the store, according the report filed by the deputy responding to the complaint.

“The manager stated that for the last several days there have been several peaceful petitioners standing outside the exit of the store collecting signatures from willing customers,” the deputy wrote. “There has been several large groups of people that have been coming to Wal-mart preventing willing customers from signing the petitions.

“He stated that the large groups - also referred to as ‘blockers’ - of people were standing by the doorway blocking the customers from entering the store,” he wrote. “The manager stated he witnessed the suspects being aggressive to customers and videotaping them even when asked not to be recorded and to be left alone.  

“He stated he verbally told all the suspects that they need to leave or else he would have them arrested for trespassing,” he wrote.

One of the “blockers” refused to leave and reportedly told the store manager: “I have the right to be here. I’m not going anywhere.”

The suspects were “blocking customers from entering the store and while actively videotaping them,” according to the deputy. They refused to leave the store grounds and continued to harass customers.

The manager signed a statement of private person’s (citizen’s) arrest and the men were arrested.

Upon their arrest, two of the alleged blockers told the deputy they were each “paid to be a Wal-mart to record people and to prevent customers from giving the petitioners signatures.”

Allegations of petition blockers are being investigated now by the Office of the Inspector General for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, officials told The Signal earlier this week.

The ordinance, approved by the Santa Clarita City Council in March, paved the way for a Metro proposal that would take down 62 billboard structures inside city limits along the Metro right-of-way in exchange for giving Metro the right to construct three, double-sided digital billboards on city-owned property off Highway 14 and Interstate 5.

Those in favor of a public vote on electronic billboards have until May 5 to collect more than 11,000 valid signatures on their petition to affect change and possibly reverse the city’s decision, organizer Patti Sulpizio said earlier this week.

The latest arrests were made after a Saugus woman with two children complained to the manager about harassment.

“She stated when she parked her vehicle in the parking lot she saw a large group of people standing near the Wal-mart entrance,” the deputy wrote. “She stated that when she and her children walked towards the entrance of the store her path was blocked by several people and a woman who placed a clipboard in her face telling her ‘sign this.’

“The witness stated she refused to give her a signature and told the woman to get out of her way,” he wrote. “She stated the (blocker) obstructed her path while actively videotaping her and her children. She told the suspect he did not have permission to record her or her children.

“The suspect ignored her and continued recording her and her children,” the deputy wrote. “The woman then rushed into the Wal-mart and notified the managers inside. She stated she felt the groups (blockers) of people were extremely aggressive and she felt harassed.”

Arrested for trespassing are: Abdullah Kariym Yaqiyn, 42, of Moreno Valley; Leonard Ernest Rutherford, 67, of Olympia, Wash. and Ryan John Dennis, 44, Snohomish, Wash.

By their descriptions, the three alleged ‘blockers’ are not small in stature, described as: a 6-foot-5 man weighing 246 pounds; a 200-pound man at 5-foot-9 and a third man weighing 200 pounds and is 5-foot-11 tall.

jholt@signalscv.com

661-287-5527

On Twitter @jamesarthurholt

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