By Stein, M. L.
Editor & Publisher , Vol. 125, No. 40
The San Francisco Bay Times, a gay and lesbian newspaper, has filed a civil rights suit in federal court against the city of San Francisco and its former police chief over the alleged confiscation of thousands of copies of the paper from newsracks.
Also named as defendants are the current police chief, Thomas F. Murphy, and three police officers who, it is charged, conspired with former Chief Richard Hongisto to remove the papers during an early-morning foray on May 8. Murphy is not accused in the reputed theft of the newspapers but is included as a defendant solely for "injunctive purposes," according to the complaint.
The seized copies of the biweekly Bay Times carried a front-page cartoon of Hongisto with a nightstick held between his legs. The caption read, "Dick's Cool New Tool: Martial Law," a reference to Hongisto's crackdown during rioting that followed the acquittal verdict in the Rodney King beating case in Los Angeles.
The suit alleges that Hongisto directed three of the defendants, officers Garry Delagnes, Jerry Golz and Tom Yuen, to take the papers from the racks. It is further charged that between 2,000 and 4,000 copies were placed in Yuen's personal van and an unmarked police car.
On May 13, the suit said, 2,132 of the papers were returned to the Bay Times by the San Francisco Police Department. Two days later, Hongisto was fired in connection with the confiscation.
The lawsuit filed by prominent media attorney William Bennett Turner seeks damages and declaratory and injunctive relief under the First, Fourth and 14th amendments. The latter two provide protection against unlawful seizure of property and deprivation of property without due process. A jury trial is demanded.
San Francisco District Attorney Arlo Smith ruled earlier that no criminal charges would be filed against Hongisto because the removal of the papers did not violate state law in that the Bay Times is free and thus has no "fair market value. …