Feathered Bastard

Russell Pearce Sued by Puente's Sal Reza

Pro-immigrant activist Sal Reza, leader of the Phoenix human-rights group Puente, announced Tuesday that he's suing state Senate President Russell Pearce in federal court for falsely arresting him on suspicion of trespassing and denying him access to the Senate building.

In addition to Pearce, the complaint names as defendants two Arizona Department of Public Safety officers involved in the incident, Officer J. Gentry Burton and Sergeant Jeff Trapp, who are assigned to the Capitol as a security detail.

Reza claims that his civil rights were violated and that he was targeted because he is a Mexican-American and critical of Pearce's immigration stance. The lawsuit is seeking punitive damages, and is meant to send Pearce a message, Reza said.

"I don't want Pearce to keep doing this to other people," he told reporters. "Just because you don't agree with someone else's opinion and then get him arrested-- this is the type of stuff that happens in third-world countries."

In late February, Reza was collared at the Senate building on his way to meet state Senator Steve Gallardo. Officers at the building asked him to leave because he had been "banned" from the building by Pearce. 

However, Reza questioned their authority and asked for proof that he was banned in writing. Instead, Reza says, he was shoved against the glass wall in the Senate lobby and arrested for "trespassing."

As previously reported by my colleague Stephen Lemons, Anayanse Garza, an activist who happened to be with Reza that day, was also arrested. This, for alleged aggravated assault and resisting arrest as she was attempting to film Reza's mistreatment with a cell phone camera.

Garza, a slight, soft-spoken woman, also claims she was abused in the process of being arrested. She much smaller than the DPS officers who arrested her that day. Both men are over six feet tall.

Neither Garza, nor Reza have been charged with any crime, in spite of their arrests months ago. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office would only say that it is still reviewing both cases.

Pearce claims he had asked officers a day before the arrests to restrict entrance to those "offenders" guilty of so-called "disorderly and disruptive behavior." This essentially amounted to activists applauding as they watched a Senate committee hearing on a TV set in a separate room.

Lemons has discussed the discrepancies between the police reports for the arrests and Pearce's statements in a blog post you can read, here.

Pearce didn't specifically mention Reza in his instructions to Senate security. But Stephen Montoya, Reza's lawyer, said at Tuesday's press conference that they are naming Pearce as a defendant, because he wanted the "offenders" trespassed. And one of these "offenders" happened to be Reza, a long-time, vocal critic of Pearce.

Montoya predicts the court will take 12 to 16 months to rule on the lawsuit. By that time, Pearce could be out of office if the recall campaign by Citizens for a Better Arizona proves successful. 

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Uriel J. Garcia
Contact: Uriel J. Garcia