COSTA MESA - Orange County Superior Court Judge Kelly MacEachern dismissed criminal charges against Coyotl Tezcatlipoca, an Orange Coast College student at the center of a much-publicized free-speech case in Costa Mesa. The judge questioned prosecutor Danny Peelman's credentials and found that the local private attorney had not been appointed or sworn in as a public prosecutor as required by the California Constitution. Judge MacEachern stated that Mr. Peelman's failure to follow the law amounted to 'a denial of due process' for Tezcatlipoca.
The ACLU of Southern California, which is representing Tezcatlipoca along with private attorney B. Kwaku Duren, raised doubts about Peelman's impartiality during the trial, which began last week and ended abruptly Monday afternoon with the dismissal.
'Prosecutors must be held to the highest standard, but from start to finish this prosecution failed to meet even the most basic tests,' said ACLU/SC staff attorney Belinda Escobosa Helzer. 'These criminal charges were part of a politically motivated campaign against our client for exercising his free-speech rights to criticize the city council.'
Tezcatlipoca, who is also known as Benito Acosta, was testifying at a Costa Mesa city council meeting in January 2006 when he was cut off by Costa Mesa Mayor Allan Mansoor, then surrounded by police officers, dragged out of the meeting room, and arrested. The ACLU/SC and Duren filed a civil lawsuit in March 2006 against the city of Costa Mesa for violating Tezcatlipoca's free-speech rights. Disqualified prosecutor Peelman works for the same law firm that represents the city in the civil lawsuit.
'I'm relieved that I can resume my life and studies, and I'm glad that the court has sent a message to Costa Mesa public officials that they are not above the law and they must be held accountable,' said Tezcatlipoca.
Tezcatlipoca was picked to speak at the January 2006 meeting by a group of more than 100 people opposed to Costa Mesa's proposal to deputize city police to enforce civil immigration laws. Tezcatlipoca asked members of the audience to stand if they too opposed the City's proposal, a custom that was accepted in Costa Mesa as a way for the audience to express its opinions about City policies. The group stood up to demonstrate their solidarity.
A representative of the Orange-County-based Minutemen group spoke first in support of the plan. Mansoor, who had accepted honorary membership in the group, allowed the group to stand up in council chambers, as Tezcatlipoca's group planned.
Yet when Tezcatlipoca's turn came, Mansoor first cut him off then attempted to shout him down before he could ask his supporters to stand. Tezcatlipoca was tackled by police officers and later taken by the police to the hospital for treatment.