WE ARE CHANGE-OK ACTIVISTS ARE ASSAULTED, ARRESTED AT PENN SQUARE MALL
(Andrew W. Griffin) OKLAHOMA CITY – Two members of We Are Change Oklahoma claim they were brutally assaulted by mall security guards and an officer of the Oklahoma City Police Department and ultimately arrested on Friday afternoon during a non-violent “street action” at Penn Square Mall.
Red Dirt Report and Oklahoma Watchdog were given exclusive information by Oklahoma City resident and WAC-OK founder and activist James Lane who was just released from the Oklahoma County Jail arrested on charges of assault and battery.
“Even though I was the victim of the brutal, unprovoked assault, and never touched a single officer, I was charged with assault and battery,” Lane told Red Dirt Report on Sunday evening.
Lane along with fellow activist Brent Southard and a third activist decided to go to Penn Square Mall – owned by Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group – on the afternoon of “Black Friday,” the popular shopping day right after Thanksgiving.
Seeing Penn Square Mall as an optimal place to spread their information via “deception dollars,” which would be tossed from the second floor of the mall in the vicinity of the food court, they hoped to promote alternative media websites.
“There were eight of us initially,” Lane said of the protest which was designed to educate shoppers through the information on the fake money. “We (Lane and Southard) didn’t even throw the dollars.”
Gathering on the second floor, Lane was tasked with photographing the event while Southard held a bag of “deception dollars” and a third activist announced the action via his bullhorn. This got the attention of mall security who proceeded to first go after the bullhorn-toting third activist but then started going after Southard who held a bag which contained the “deception dollars.”
Lane said Southard fled the scene, exiting near the mall movie theater. It was outside that Southard was ultimately taken down by what Lane considered to be five unprofessional mall security guards.
Meanwhile, Lane said he is close behind his friend, videotaping the entire event as it unfolded. Right before Southard was taken down, he said he heard one guard yell at two other guards to “take ‘em down hard,” immediately prior to his arrest.
Lane said an OCPD officer arrived on foot to assist the guards. All the while, he is about 20 yards from Southard filming this. It is then that Lane said he was approached by three security guards who see him filming the scene. In what he considered to be a threatening manner, they inform Lane to “turn the video camera off.”
Lane said he informed a security guard named Rick Wisner that “the state of Oklahoma is a single consent state and that he can film anywhere and anyone he pleases.” Lane also informs Wisner that he is welcome to ask him to leave mall property but that if he touches him “it will be considered assault.”
This did not stop Wisner and three other security guards from allegedly attacking and assaulting Lane.
As Lane yells that he is being assaulted, he gets the attention of the OCPD officer, yelling to him that “these men are assaulting me.” Instead of intervening and stopping the attack by the guards, the officer allegedly then joins the attack, ordering him to “stop resisting.”
At this point, Lane said his face is pushed into a pile of wood chips on a grass berm, resulting in contusions on his forehead. The assaulting guards and officer allegedly punched Lane in the ribs and back, ordering him to stop resisting. The pressure on his back is so great that Lane said he could not breathe. As he struggles for breath, they allegedly threaten to mace him as well.
Telling one of the assailants to “give him some lung” (air), Lane is able to breathe again but is then handcuffed and arrested.
Sitting in the OCPD squad car, Lane and Southard endure two hours of “snide remarks and veiled threats,” allegedly calling the duo “terrorists” and “ACORN liberals.”
Lane said one of the mall security guards taunted Southard and allegedly said, “You’re going to jail for assault, not me.” Lane retorts that he will “see him in court.”
Lane and Southard were booked into Oklahoma County Jail in downtown Oklahoma City. The third activist that had been with Lane and Southard fled the mall unmolested.
Lane, now out of jail, is seeking legal help. Information about the WAC-OK legal defense fund can be found at their site – www.wearechangeoklahoma.org.
“Because I was videotaping their actions they brutally attacked me, filed false charges against me and tampered with evidence,” Lane said, adding that he was going to fight the charges.
As for Southard, he was charged with disorderly conduct and assault and battery. He was released as well.
Lane said that the issue regarding “tampered evidence” is that his camera was confiscated as he was taken down and not returned. The police claimed it was being held as evidence.
“I’m 36 years old and I’ve never even been arrested in my life. It was horrible,” Lane said. “We were in lockdown. The jail was on a 72 hour lockdown. Locked two to a cell with lights on and nothing to read or watch. Just sit and stare at the ceiling. Wearing an orange jumpsuit, the whole works.”
Due to the late hour of this report, Red Dirt Report and Oklahoma Watchdog were unable to get comments from Les Morris, public relations officer for the Simon Property Group, or the public information officer for the Oklahoma City Police Department.
UPDATE: November 30, 2009
Red Dirt Report spoke with Sgt. Jennifer Wardlow at the Oklahoma City Police Department. She shared information on a preliminary report she had access to at OCPD. Wardlow confirmed much of the account, except she said that in the report it states that “Lane pushed (the mall security guard) back with one hand on his chest.” This would have accounted for the charge of assault and battery. Contacted today by RDR and told of what the preliminary report stated, Lane denied he assaulted the guard. “It never happened.” Lane added that the guards were “charging me” and that he may have involuntarily put his hand up to protect himself in a defensive posture. “In no way did I initiate any offensive action against the guard.” Wardlow said the final report was not available yet and may be available on Tuesday.
As for Penn Square Mall and comments from their owner, Simon Property Group in Indianapolis, Red Dirt Report spoke with public information officer Les Morris. He had said, earlier in the day, that he would contact the staff at Penn Square. However, when RDR followed up with Morris late Monday afternoon, he curtly responded that “there would be no comment at this point.” Asked about mall policy on leafleting on Simon Property Group properties such as Penn Square Mall, Morris again responded with “I don’t have any other comment.”