OB Under Siege
EDITOR: This article was originally published in the Volume 4, number 8, early March 1974 edition of the OB Rag.
Last Friday, shortly after 8 a.m., Officer William Ritter was wounded by a gunshot. At the time, Ritter was reportedly seated in his patrol car in the parking lot on Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach.
Immediately after this incident, police units from all over San Diego converged on Ocean Beach. Suddenly the community was under siege. A command post was set up at Robb Field, a helicopter from the county Sherriff’s department was called in, and uniformed and plain-clothes police officers began detaining and questioning people.
Incidents of violence have not been uncommon, in Ocean Beach. But rarely has a police officer been a victim. This time, according to many of the literally hundreds of people who experienced and observed the events of the day, the cops rushing into Ocean Beach were “out for blood.”
Many violent acts took place last Friday. Folks in the neighborhood of Abbott and Saratoga woke up to pistols being pointed at their heads by police officers. Many residents were held indiscriminately at gunpoint as they were frisked and forced to identify themselves. Four persons who watched the police actions were arrested and one of them was later beaten by police. Arrested were: Tom Kozden, Jeannie Sapienza, David Button, and George Katsiaficas. Katsiaficas’ charges were dropped because his arresting officer couldn’t be found, and at the time of press the charges against David Button are unknown.
Jeannie, however, was charged with “resisting- arrest,” although she went with the arresting officer peaceably and her only offense was to tell an officer not to call her “dearie”.” Tom Kozden, released on $1250 bail, is faced with the charges of interfering with a police officer and the felony count of assault and battery on a”police officer. Tom reports that he himself was beaten by officers at Robb Field and told that he would be held responsible for the shooting of the officer in the Abbott street residence.
In one incident, officers attempted to enter a residence at 2014-1/2 Abbott Street. At some point shots were fired. Detective Michael De Bruler was injured. The Abbott Street residence was surrounded by police. According to neighbors and witnesses, police then opened fire without warning to whatever occupants might have been inside and without giving a chance for anyone to surrender.
Many volleys of shots were fired and tear gas was thrown into the house. One suspect, Peter Mahone, emerged from the house with his hands raised. He was hit by a plainclothes officer in the back of the head with the butt of a gun which allegedly discharged at that time. Mahone apparently suffered one wound in the shooting. He was removed from the scene by police.
Tensions continued to rise in Ocean Beach between police and the crowd. Police threatened to make additional arrests. More people were threatened by police with drawn guns. One woman, attempting to see about a friend hours after the incident, was told to stay back because an investigation was going on. When she asked an officer for information about the location of the investigation, she was told, “Do you want to go to jail?”
Finally pressure from city hall served to influence the police to withdraw the troops and institute a low police profile in the community.
An uneasy calm looms over Ocean Beach now. The maze of contradictory information communicated through the straight media yields little in concrete facts. What is known is that police had many suspects that morning-that many people were held at gunpoint and many doors were opened. None of this was portrayed in the straight media-what we saw there was a dramatic Jack Webb story where the police “get their man.” It is hard to say to what extent this police and media portrayal have affected perceptions of the events that morning. Although the police and the media have already tried and convicted a suspect named Peter Mahone, it is important to keep our minds open to alternative ways of viewing Friday’s events.
On that Friday, Ocean Beach was easily made an armed camp by police, detective, and special services units. In a matter of minutes, entire areas were sectioned off, and access routes into the community were guarded.
We can contrast these events with the way another shooting was dealt with-when Paula Tharp was shot, by a sniper in her Ocean Beach home, it took half an hour for the police to arrive and a suspect was not apprehended until months later.
Ocean Beach is living through a very violent time, as is the rest of the country. It seems as inequities in our society are felt and the economic pinch continues, violence will continue to be a part of our lives. The police respond to violence other than their own with even more violence. But it seems that the only real way to deal with violence is to recognize and attempt to constructively change the underlying inequities which are at the root of the problem.
In the meantime, Ocean Beach continues to be tense. Some police have warned that things will be even tighter here.
In order to deal with these problems, a meeting has been called for next Monday, March 4 7:30 pm at the OB Rec Center. It is crucial for the community to come together to deal positively with violence and the police situation. ~ miriam & dennis
The straight media has repeatedly mentioned the “lack of motivation” in the shootings. Yet it is apparent that the police will attempt to prove that there was some motivation involved. They will also try to tie in as many other people into the incident as possible, even if they had no involvement with it.
If you are contacted by investigators of the San Diego Police Dept. or the District Attorney’s Office, you are not required to give them any information other than your name, what you’re doing, and where you’re going. You don’t have to answer any questions about past events or actions.