Today a good friend sent us a tidbit that he found tucked away in his morgue file, and that got me sidetracked in a real fun way….
Frank has written a lot of historical pieces on Ocean Beach (click on HISTORY up there in the navigation bar, you won’t be sorry) and in my opinion this article needs to be part of the story of the Collier Park Riot. Originally published in the door (another San Diego underground paper) in May of 1972, it tells a bit of the story of our very own EditorDude on that infamous day in March 1971.
May 25-June 8, 1972 – page 3
On Friday, May 5, the trial of Frank Gormlie, community organizer and writer for the O. B. People’s Rag, came to a conclusion. Frank was being tried on two charges stemming from a demonstration at Collier Park over a year ago. One was, “failure to disperse from an unlawful assembly” and the other was, “assault with a deadly weapon upon a police officer”. After two and a half weeks of listening to testimony and almost two days of deliberation, the jury passed down a verdict of guilty. The latter charge carries with it an indeterminate sentence of six months to life in state prison. Frank is now in county jail pending sentencing.
On the day in question, an anti-war rally was held on the beach, attended by a cross-section of people from Ocean Beach, ranging in ages from 5 to 50. Following the rally, the crowd marched up Voltaire St., making efforts to keep the street clear, to Collier Park. The crowd was peaceful and festive; they had come to the park with the intent of cleaning it up, planting flowers, and saving the land that had been dedicated to the Children of Ocean Beach. Frank Gormlie was busying himself by passing out shovels for people to use to plant flowers and trees.
Five Police Officers came into the park to tell the band, that was scheduled to play that day, that they could not set up in the park. The Police officers left and the band proceeded to set up on an obliging neighbor’s lawn across the street from the park. About an hour later, 30-40 Police officers in riot gear appeared. Some of the crowd had entered the street by this time looking forward to listen to some music. Observing this, the Police officer in charge, Lt. Crow, immediately declared an illegal assembly, and ordered the area cleared. After a few protests, the crowd, and Gormlie, began to orderly disperse.
Before Gormlie could leave, a local disc jokey approached him and asked him to come into his house and give a live report on the radio over the phone. Frank emerged from the house about twenty minutes later and started to head directly to his house, which meant walking alongside a police line. Frank was heading up the block to his house when he saw a police officer run into the crowd after a young boy and begin to beat the boy repeatedly with his club. Gormlie, who was still carrying one of the shovels he had been passing out during the day, ran over and tried to block the officer’s blows with the shovel. The officer then attempted to strike Frank several times, and when it appeared that the officer was reaching for his gun, Frank ran into the crowd and up the street.
The prosecution brought in ten witnesses, six of them police officers, claiming that Gormlie assaulted police officer Sgt. Anderson with a shovel. These police eye-witnesses gave widely varying and conflicting statements as to how and where the alleged blows struck Sgt. Anderson. The defense presented several eye-witnesses who saw Sgt. Anderson beating the young boy and saw Gormlie trying to stop it.
The case for the defense hinged on the fact that according to law, a person is allowed to defend himself or another if undue or unreasonable force is being used by a police officer in attempting to make an arrest or otherwise in the performance of his duties.
The prosecution, in addressing the jury, which consisted of 11 white, middle-aged, middle class people, and one young white male, directed its statements at the fears and biases of the jury. The prosecution pointed out that Gormlie worked for the 0. B. Rag and claimed that since he ran from the incident, he was obviously guilty. There was also an appeal made to patriotism in mentioning that the Viet Cong flag was displayed at the anti-war rally and great restraint was practiced by the police at seeing their country so maligned. The prosecution’s closing statement was, “The Police cannot get justice in the streets, but only here in the courtroom and it is up to you the jury to see that they get that justice.”
Ted Bumer, Gormlie’s lawyer, used his closing statements to point out the inconsistencies in the prosecution witnesses’ testimony and stressed the point that the people’s right, guaranteed under the First amendment, for peaceful assembly was denied. Bumer reminded the jury that they must be convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt” with an “abiding conviction and to a moral certainty” of the guilt of the accused.
Two days later, Frank Gormlie was found guilty on all charges, and is now awaiting sentencing on May 26.
Frank served time from May to December of 1972. Part of the terms of his probation was that he was not to associate with the OB Rag or members of the staff, but he was successfully able to appeal those conditions and that part was overturned.