Cops Raid Lesbian-Hosted Fundraiser for California Pol

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday June 30, 2009

The Sheriff's Department in Encinitas, a town outside of San Diego, reportedly responded to a June 26 noise complaint regarding a political fundraiser attended by middle-aged Democrats, many of them women, and hosted by a lesbian couple, by dispatching more than a half-dozen deputies, one of whom allegedly proceeded to throw the 60-year-old hostess to the ground and pepper-spray her guests.

The fundraiser was convened in support of politician Francine Busby, who had run for the Congressional post of Randy "Duke" Cunningham after former Rep. Cunningham, a Republican, lost his seat by being sent to federal prison on an array of corruption charges.

Busby lost that race, but is gearing up for another run at Congress.

A June 28 article at the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that two noise complaints were phoned in to police by an unidentified man who complained about the fundraiser, saying that speakers using a PA system were preventing him from getting to sleep.

Attendees of the fundraiser, meantime, were reportedly heckled by an unseen man from behind some bushes who uttered disparaging remarks about gays and about Busby, a Democrat.

Busby, reported the article, used a microphone for about half an hour, from 8:00-8:30 p.m. The heckling took place during that time.

The article cited Busby as recounting that after her speech ended, around 8:30, the attendees continued to talk, though not loudly; meantime, the heckling went on, with the man using profane language. The article quoted Busby as saying, "It was a quiet home reception, disrupted by a vulgar person shouting obscenities from behind the bushes."

The Sheriff's Department reported having received a complaint about noise from the gathering at about 9:30 p.m. Deputy Marshall Abbott and another individual from the Sheriff's Department arrived at the Encinitas address of 60-year-old Shari Barman and her female life partner as, witnesses said, the gathering was ending.

Details conflict at this point, with the Sheriff's Department claiming that 50 people were present at the time, and Busby saying that the number was closer to 30. A guest departing at the time of Deputy Abbott's arrival, Tom DiCioccio, estimated that the crowd had already dwindled to 15; the DiCioccio also claimed that he saw Abbott stride right into Barman's house without knocking.

Inside, guests indicated that Abbott behaved with excessive force. When Abbott asked Barman her age, she asked why that information was needed for a citation for noise. Said Busby, "No one was refusing to comply," but Abbott evidently saw it differently: at that point, Barman was informed that she was being arrested.

When Barman attempted to walk away from Abbott, witnesses said, Abbott seized her by the arm and shoved her to the ground.

Witnesses said that Barman was clearly in pain at this point. When Barman's partner, Jane Stratton, 55, stepped forward to ask Abbott to be careful because Barman had recently had shoulder surgery, Abbot knocked her down, according to a statement later released by Barman.

Guests helped Barman up and escorted her away from Abbott, who then began to spray the attendees of the fundraiser with pepper spray.

Said Busby, "He was pepper-spraying the faces of anyone who tried to talk to him.

"People were stunned," Busby went on. "It was something that none of us has experienced."

When Abbott saw Barman in the kitchen, he went after her again, grabbing her and pulling her. A male fundraiser attendee tried to hold on to Barman, but Abbott threatened him with a Tasser at that point, the article said.

Some media reports said that Barman allegedly punched Abbot; Barman denied this in her statement.

Meantime, responding to a call for backup from Abbott, six deputies arrived, along with a sergeant, the article said. A second arrest was made, with a 62-year-old woman being nabbed by another deputy.

Sgt. Thomas Yancey defended Abbott's actions by saying that the crowd surrounded him.

"We don't like people standing behind us--we have Tasers, guns, clubs," the article quoted Yancey as saying.

The article quoted Yancey as saying, "The place got out of hand."

Yancey suggested that the escalation could have been averted by Busby, saying, "If Francine Busby was there, why not take a leadership role, step up, and nip this thing in the bud?"

According to Busby, that was not possible with Abbott pepper-spraying anyone who attempted to address him, the article noted.

A June 30 posting at the Lew Blog reported on the fracas, noting that, "Neighbors who witnessed the incident--apart from the anonymous party who phoned in the spurious complaint--confirm that the evening was peaceful and uneventful until the Sheriff's deputies arrived and began 'protecting and serving' those who attended the peaceful gathering."

A June 27 Union-Times article included more of Busby's statement on the incident, in which Busby wrote, "When the homeowner asked the deputy sheriff why he needed her date of birth, the deputy reacted by restraining the homeowner.

"Alarmed guests pleaded with the deputy to let the 60-year-old homeowner go and stop hurting her. She had recently had shoulder surgery and was clearly in pain.

"His response was to spray the women with pepper spray which caused confusion and outrage."

The article noted that Barman and Stratton had created San Francisco's Acura Classic tournament, a tennis event.

Barman's statement described the encounter from Barman's viewpoint, and went on to express Barman's outrage and distress.

"Contrary to what has been reported, I did not in any manner strike Deputy Abbott," Barman asserted.

"He and I had only been conversing for a minute or two when he grabbed my arm, twisted it behind me and threw me on the floor.

"His actions were completely unexpected, excessive and I believe, unwarranted," Barman continued. "The remaining guests who witnessed what occurred and who were pepper sprayed were stunned and outraged."

Barman also denied that the incident took place during a second visit to the house by authorities that evening, as the Sheriff's Department claimed.

"Also contrary to what has been reported, this was the first time any deputy had been to my home that evening," wrote Barman.

"I believe the noise complaint to the police may have been politically motivated based on the shouting we heard during Ms. Busby's speech," Barman added.

"In my opinion the charges brought against me are unfounded and were brought only in order to cover up Deputy Abbott's unprofessional behavior," Barman stated.

"What happened in our home was shocking and I don't believe would have happened had the situation been handled properly."

The incident bears some resemblance to an alleged incident of police brutality that took place two years ago at a birthday party in Provincetown.

In that incident, repeated noise complaints kept sending the police to the home of Provincetown resident Eddie Foley, who was celebrating his birthday with a party DJd by Boston radio host Barry Scott.

The police received repeated noise complaints about the party from an unidentified source. During the third visit from Provincetown police, Scott turned off the music and, according to the police report, told the guests, "The Provincetown Police are here to ruin our night. We hate them."

At that point, according to party guest John Donovan, "And as soon as he'd finished saying what he was saying, [the police] just came running around the corner of the house and they just tackled him."

Scott ended up with facial lacerations after his head was smashed into the side of the house. The police report said the injury was "inadvertent."

The police claimed that the crowd was being whipped up by Scott into a "riot."

But Donovan contradicted the police report's account, telling EDGE, "I can say with absolute certainty that the word hate never came out of his mouth."

Added Donovan, "Essentially, what he said was, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I am very sorry, we have to turn the music off per order of the Provincetown police department.' "

Scott's partner, Bryan Richardson, was also arrested and charged; Scott said that police released them only after Scott signed a statement to the effect that Richardson had been drunk and disorderly, which Scott said had not actually been the case.

The ensuing legal battle involved a number of judges, witnesses who refused to testify, and a jury that reportedly was pressured to find Scott guilty by the jury foreman.

In July of 2008, Scott was found guilty, but vowed to continue to continue the fight.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.