DRIVER SENTENCED FOR THREATENING PEACE ACTIVISTS IN RAMONA

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this

By Miriam Raftery

September
23, 2008 (RAMONA) -
Keith Alan Davis, a Ramona man who drove his pickup
truck toward a group of anti-war protesters n June, has been sentenced to probation,
ordered to take anger-management classes and must perform 20 days of community
service.

“This is America. You can’t just go running people over, but let’s
not just hogtie people and throw them in prison, either,” said Dave Patterson,
organizer of the Ramona “Enough” anti-war protests held each Sunday
at noon in downtown Ramona and other County locations.  “If you
put him in jail, he can’t support his family,” added Patterson,
who believes the verdict is fair. “Maybe the guy driving can be rehabilitated.”

A Vietnam veteran, Patterson believes dissent is patriotic and once mailed
his medals to President George W. Bush to protest the Iraq War, which he believes
to be unjustified.  Davis has similarly claimed a patriotic right to object
to anti-war messages.

Patterson told East County Magazine that the District Attorney did
not press charges until several citizens wrote letters urging that action be
taken.  Patterson said he recommended Constitution classes to educate
the driver, but said he is satisfied with the verdict.

Patterson has called Davis’ action was a “premeditated act” because
he knew the protest was being held.  According to protestors who witnessed
the incident, Davis drove his car onto the curb and struck their signs, forcing
protesters to jump out of the way. 

Davis has contended he was exercising his First Amendment right of expression
when he drove onto the shoulder of state Route 67 and displayed his middle
finger to protesters.

The Ramona protestors have faced other challenges.  In June, the California
Department of Transportation (Cal Trans) and California Highway Patrol (CHP)
responded to complaints alleging that the demonstrators needed a permit and
were trampling vegetation.  Officials ordered peace activists to vacate
the premises. But Patterson refused to halt the protest without a court order,
citing First Amendment rights.  A pro-war demonstrator agreed that protests
on both sides should be allowed.  Authorities later backed down, after
concluding no laws had been violated.  

“Enough” anti-war protestors in La Mesa also had a confrontation
with a motorist earlier this year.  According to eyewitnesses, a motorist
stopped and ripped up a protestor’s sign.  Police were called but
the motorist, who fled the scene, was not arrested.

Davis, who had no prior arrest record, apologized to protestors at his sentencing
hearing on September 20, the San
Diego Union-Tribune
reported

“All my life I've tried to do good deeds,” he said. “I'm
ashamed and embarrassed I've done this. I can't believe I'm here. I've always
tried to be someone to be looked up to.”

El Cajon Superior Court judge Roderick Shelton designed a punishment to fit
the crime.  “Just as they were protesting on the side of the street,
you will be picking up trash on the side of the street,” he informed
Davis, who pled guilty to reckless driving. 

Noting that some peace activists said they now fear standing beside the road
to protest, Judge Shelton concluded, “I hope this does not have a chilling
effect on people to use their constitutional rights to protest.”

Miriam Raftery, editor of East County Magazine,  is a 25-year
journalist who has won national and local awards for her investigative
reporting and community journalism.  If you are indicated in syndicating
or reprinting this column, please contact editor@eastcountymagazine.org.