PHOENIX - Senate President Russell Pearce insists a Capitol “blacklist” banning certain people from our state Senate building doesn’t exist.
The Department of Public Safety doesn’t like the term either.
But on Monday, DPS Captain Steve Harrison told me they have the names of six people who are banned from entering the Senate building.
I have submitted a freedom of information request to obtain the names of those six people and am still waiting for that request to be fulfilled.
Harrison said it all started late last month when a crowd began to get rowdy during an Appropriations Committee hearing.
The senators were discussing controversial immigration legislation which attracted a large crowd.
So many people showed up, dozens had to be placed in separate hearing rooms. DPS said they piped in audio and video so the crowd could still watch and hear the proceedings.
In that crowd was community activist Salvador Reza, a well-known opponent of Pearce’s various immigration-related bills, including SB1070.
“They would applaud at certain sections, they would boo at certain sections they were making a lot of noise to the point where they were disrupting the hearing,” Harrison described.
At that point, he explained what J.S. Trapp, who heads up security in the Senate building, wrote in a report dated Feb. 24.
He wrote, “Senate President Russell Pearce approached me and requested that the offenders from the overflow seating be identified, photographed, and that the information be posted at the Senate guard desks and that these offenders be denied further entrance into the Senate."
Harrison supported that statement in person when he told me, “we were asked to identify the people that were causing the disruption and photograph them.”
I asked Harrison who asked DPS to “identify and photograph” the attendees, and he responded, “Senator Pearce. It was Senator Pearce that advised that because of their disruptive behavior they were not going to be allowed back into the building. There was no timeline attached to that. No definitive two weeks, one week, there was no definitive date of how long this might last.”
Harrison said they did not photograph the protestors as a camera was not accessible.
He confirmed there are six people who are still banned from the building.
Speaking on behalf of Senator Pearce, spokesman Mike Philipsen offers a different version of events.
He reiterates what Pearce has stated in the past, that “there never was a list”.
In an e-mail, Philipsen never confirmed what DPS stated, which is that Pearce instructed officers to identify and photograph protestors for the purpose of banning them from the Senate building for the foreseeable future.
He does state that “law enforcement recognized disruptions by that individual, and went to the Senate President, who is in charge of the building, with their recommendations. This is a law enforcement driven case, to keep the peace in the Senate.”
I ask him for clarification, since that makes it sound like DPS came up with the idea to identify members of the crowd for the purpose of generating a list of people who should be banned from the building.
I ask him, “Acting as Pearce’s spokesman, you are saying that Trapp and DPS Public Information Officers are mistaken?”
He responded, “No, your description is inaccurate, because the President is in charge of the building, he signed off on law enforcement recommendations.”
Harrison said while they did collaborate with Pearce, it was the senator who made the request.
When asked why he thinks Pearce won't confirm or support his report, Harrison replied, “Honestly I don't know, you would have to ask Senator Pearce and maybe he has a different recollection of it.”
Harrison gave Pearce the benefit of the doubt, equating the chain of events to something like the schoolyard game of “rumor”.
“Our officers acted appropriately because we believe the Senate President has that authority to bar people from the Senate to maintain the peace and security. People don't want to hear that, I understand that.”
We took the matter to Arizona State University Law Professor Paul Bender.
Bender said the Senate rules do give the Senate President control over the building, but there are constitutional limits to that power.
“Banning somebody from the building for a long period of time I think is extremely questionable. If he acts because of a disagreement in politics or because of race or ethnicity that would clearly be unconstitutional.”
See an extended interview with Bender in the attached video clip
Meantime, Harrison tells me they do plan to talk to Pearce about the ban. They want to discuss future criteria for determining who should be banned from the building and how long the current ban on six individuals should last.
“If this event opens dialogue to maybe change and maybe we come up with different procedures great, we're all for that,” he said.
See an extended interview with Harrison in the attached video clip
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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