In what appears to be an act of heavy-handed political retribution, longtime activist, muckraker and citizen journalist Michael Petrelis yesterday surrendered to the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department in response to the District Attorney issuing a warrant for his arrest, after being charged with allegedly violating the privacy of Supervisor Scott Wiener.
The DA alleged Petrelis broke Section 647(j) sub-section (1) of the penal code.
A simmering feud between the Supervisor and Petrelis over a range of issues from a public nudity bill to control over the rainbow flag in Harvey Milk Plaza has raged for over two years. The charge stems from a photograph Petrelis snapped, and subsequently published on his blog, of the supervisor at a wash basin in a public restroom at City Hall on Friday, October 26.
Petrelis voluntarily turned himself in for booking on Thursday afternoon after posting bond, was cited and released.
“I am dealing with this legal matter head on,” said Petrelis following his ordeal. “I voluntarily surrendered to the San Francisco sheriff. I have a court date set for December 5th at 9 am, and I look forward to it.”
The incident occurred at City Hall, where Petrelis was staging a photo-op for visiting gay Honduran dignitary Erick Martinez, an activist whose life has been threatened by the rightwing junta ruling his country. Through Petrelis’ political organizing, Martinez was introduced to gay Supervisor David Campos and bisexual Supervisor Christina Olague, in front of the Harvey Milk Bust in the Grand Rotunda on the second floor.
Petrelis had been taking photographs of the activities in the Grand Rotunda before he walked into the public men’s room noticed Wiener and proceeded to photograph him. An image of Wiener standing in front of the sink, holding a toothbrush later appeared on Petrelis’ blog.
Two weeks after the photo appeared on his blog, in what looks like an act of political retribution, Wiener appears to have abused his power as a San Francisco Supervisor by involving the sheriff’s department, who in turn assigned two senior detectives to investigate the Petrelis.
“I am surprised the DA charged this case,” said Petrelis’ attorney, Derek St. Pierre.
A local fight over control of the giant rainbow flag that flies over the Castro, located in Harvey Milk Plaza, has been simmering for over two years between activists and the politically powerful Merchants of Upper Market and Castro (MUMC), over an alleged “agreement” with the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW). Wiener failed to mediate the dispute in his district, instead siding with MUMC.
At a September 11th commemoration in honor of Mark Bingham, a microphone was intercepted by Petrelis, an organizer of the event, before Wiener reached it. Excoriating him for his hypocrisy and lack of leadership, in front of media hordes, San Francisco mayor, Ed Lee, and other San Francisco power brokers, Wiener’s subsequent speech was an excruciating, cringe-inducing embarrassment, and one Wiener was not likely to forget any time soon. A meeting between activists and DPW scheduled for October 26, 2011 at City Hall was abruptly canceled at Wiener’s behest.
More recently, Wiener has been under considerable fire for the anti-nudity legislation he authored; an aggressive attempt to impose curfews on public plazas in the Castro that critics decry as openly hostile to the district’s homeless population; the erosion of San Francisco’s once-powerful Sunshine laws; and his strenuous opposition to free Muni rides for minors. A growing chorus of irate constituents has begun protesting the Supervisor’s activities and speaking engagements.
For decades Petrelis has been living with HIV/AIDS, while fighting for many domestic and international human battles on behalf of LGBT persons and people with AIDS, and is a staunch transparency advocate known for pushing sunshine and government accountability concerns, often to the displeasure of politicians and city agencies.
California Penal Code Section 647
(j) (1) Any person who looks through a hole or opening, into, or otherwise views, by means of any instrumentality, including, but not limited to, a periscope, telescope, binoculars, camera, motion picture camera, camcorder, or mobile phone, the interior of a bedroom, bathroom, changing room, fitting room, dressing room, or tanning booth, or the interior of any other area in which the occupant has a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the intent to invade the privacy of a person or persons inside. This subdivision shall not apply to those areas of a private business used to count currency or other negotiable instruments.
Image source: Michael Petrelis
Clinton Fein is an internationally acclaimed author, artist, and First Amendment activist, best-known for his 1997 First Amendment Supreme Court victory against United States Attorney General Janet Reno. Fein has also gained international recognition for his Annoy.com site, and for his work as a political artist. Fein is on the Board of Directors of the First Amendment Project, “a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition.” Fein’s political and privacy activism have been widely covered around the world. His work also led him to be nominated for a 2001 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award.
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