Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

SF Pride says safety at risk if party called off

Prosecutors say this photo shows Joshua Spencer with a gun near the 2015 San Francisco LGBT Pride celebration. (Photo: San Francisco Superior Court.)

Prosecutors say this photo shows Joshua Spencer as the gunman during a shooting at the 2015 San Francisco LGBT Pride celebration. (Photo: San Francisco Superior Court documents.)

Organizers of San Francisco’s Pride celebration said this week that calling off the party could increase public safety risks, as more than 1 million people would still be likely to come to Civic Center anyway.

The comments are part of SF Pride’s response to a lawsuit filed by a San Francisco man who was shot at the 2015 celebration.

As part of his suit, Freddy Atton has said that this year’s festival should be called off unless organizers move it to another location, use metal detectors and search people’s bags, and take numerous other steps that police have recommended.

A judge has ordered SF Pride to explain at a hearing June 16 why organizers shouldn’t have to make the changes and keep plans in place for the two-day festival, which is set to start June 25, just nine days after the hearing.

“San Francisco Pride is the largest gathering of people in the city of San Francisco,” George Ridgely, executive director of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee, said in a declaration filed in superior court June 9.

“If the court enjoins the celebration or it is cancelled, none of the infrastructure provided by San Francisco Pride would be in place. That would mean that 1.2 million people would be in downtown San Francisco before, during, and after the parade without any coordinated plan to address unavoidable crowd control issues. There would be none of the infrastructure that San Francisco Pride provides to manage street closures, to respond to emergency medical situations,” and handle other situations.

Ridgely added that Atton’s “demanded changes to the celebration are already in place or infeasible.”

He pointed to one of the plaintiff’s recommendations that the Pride celebration be moved to Golden Gate Park, and explained why that wouldn’t work.

“The largest public space in Golden Gate Park is the Polo Field, which has a capacity of only 57,000 people,” Ridgely said. “Additionally, the rental fee for the Polo Field is almost double that of Civic Center Plaza. San Francisco Pride pays an average of $14,000 per day to use Civic Center Plaza and would have to pay $28,864 per day for the Polo Field.”

Organizers would have to rent several spots in the park “to accommodate crowds of 300,000-500,000 people at any given time, which would be cost prohibitive,” he said.

Another problem is that Civic Center is where the parade ends, Ridgely noted. (The injunction would not apply to the parade.) Traditionally, people go right from the parade into the festival. Even if SF Pride did move the celebration from Civic Center, “hundreds of thousands of people would have to be transported across the city at around the same time the parade finishes,” he said.

Atton’s complaint also says the celebration’s footprint should be smaller. At least one police official has testified in a previous lawsuit against SF Pride that the vast size of the party, which encompasses several blocks in an already busy neighborhood, makes it difficult to ensure safety. Court documents have also revealed that even people from the Pride Committee have expressed concern about the size of the footprint.

But in his declaration, Ridgely said his group “cannot ‘adopt a smaller footprint’ for the celebration. San Francisco Pride does not have control over the number of individuals who choose to attend the parade and celebration. Reducing the size of the footprint where the celebration is located will not change the number of individuals who will attend. Rather, what would happen is that the same number of people would attend, and given the reduced size of the footprint, there would be more difficult crowd control concerns. For example, it would be more difficult for police and emergency medical response to quickly assist in emergencies given that the same number of people would be packed in a smaller venue.”

Ridgely also countered other recommendations, which include using metal detectors and checking people’s bags as they enter.

“Adopting a security point with metal detectors, bag checks, and patdowns would change the fundamental nature of the event as an open and public celebration of the LGBT community and LGBT rights,” he said. “It would be prohibitively expensive, and if ordered on June 16, 2016, it would not be possible for San Francisco Pride to find the vendors and staffing that could implement this change to the celebration in nine days.”

2015 shooting

In his lawsuit, filed in May, Atton described being shot June 27, 2015, after “a large fight broke out” on Fulton Street west of Hyde, which was inside the festival perimeters. He claims in his lawsuit that the Pride Committee allowed someone “to bring a handgun into the celebration.”

“There was no security in sight to address the fight, to dissipate it, or to eject the combatants,” the complaint says, and the celebration was allowed “to descend as it does annually into lawlessness.”

Atton, who’d been attending the festival and lives in the neighborhood, was walking by when “the festering fight turned into a shootout.”

At about 6 p.m., “a gunman fired into the crowd, shooting Atton in the left arm,” according to court documents. Atton is seeking at least $10 million in damages.

Joshua Spencer, 20, has pleaded not guilty to charges including attempted murder and assault with a semiautomatic firearm in the case. Spencer, whose next court date is June 21, is in custody on $2.5 million bail.

Officer Carlos Manfredi, an SFPD spokesman, said shortly after the shooting that the situation was believed to have started when several groups of men, “unrelated to the Pride event,” got into a verbal argument near or inside the venue.

Mahlik and Monte Smith, two brothers from Oakland, were injured as they fled a shooting at the June 30, 2013 celebration. They also filed a lawsuit against SF Pride in May. Ryan Lapine, who’s representing Atton and the Smiths, was also the attorney for Trevor Gardner, a Los Angeles man who was shot at the June 2013 festival and settled a lawsuit against SF Pride last year. Another case stemming from the 2013 shooting is pending.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, June 10, 2016 @ 1:39 pm PST
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