Light Sentence for Six-Minute ACT UP "Riot"

3 April 2001

AIDS activists appeal convictions after judge orders one day in jail for every three seconds of Project Inform protest.

"A riot is the language of the unheard."
-- Martin Luther King Jr., Address at Birmingham, Alabama December 31, 1963

San Francisco -- Department 210 of San Francisco Superior Court resembled a scene from Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" as a lynch mob of drug company operatives crammed into the courtroom to watch the sentencing of ACT UP members Todd Swindell, David Pasquarelli and Michael Bellefountaine for their participation in an April 17, 2000, protest of the pharmaceutical promotion group Project Inform.

AIDS Industry animus was palpable, despite the absence of torches and dunking chairs, as the motley crew of non-profit executives, Morrison & Foerster lawyers and deformed victims of AIDS drug side effects begged Judge Thomas Mellon to lock up the controversial AIDS dissidents for one year as payback for their part in last year's protest turned "riot." The judge, however, opted for a far more lenient punishment after the defendants rejected a 3-year probation deal and despite numerous letters urging the harshest sentence allowable for "HIV hate crimes" by six-figure-salaried AIDS execs and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. Ironically, the Mayor's written demand arrived amidst alarming accusations leveled against him for inciting violence after he reportedly tried to provoke a fistfight with a city supervisor who criticized his office's do-nothing policy to end homelessness.

In the end, ACT UP members Todd Swindell and David Pasquarelli -- each convicted of disturbing the peace, unlawful assembly and participating in a riot -- were sentenced to 120 days in the county jail, one day for every three seconds of participation in the six-minute "riot." Michael Bellefountaine was ordered to complete 60 days in jail for a conviction of unlawful assembly. The three were also fined $1,000 each and told to pay restitution to any "riot victims" although by day's end it remained unclear who was victimized by the activists' victimless protest crimes. Defense attorneys Michael Guingona, Brian Petersen and Derek St. Pierre immediately appealed the verdicts thereby halting imposition of the sentences until future court review.

While activists admit that the sentences are overkill for first-time convictions on misdemeanor counts -- none of the three had ever been convicted of any crime, violent or otherwise, prior to the April 17 protest -- they claimed victory in light of prosecutorial misconduct and powerful political pressure in the case.

"Mouthpieces of AIDS Incorporated, including our city's corrupt mayor, wanted us put away for 12 months. They'll be lucky if they get 12 weeks," commented David Pasquarelli, who was diagnosed HIV-positive in 1995.

The four-hour sentencing hearing commenced with fast-paced legal arguments that led to moving pleas for clemency by the gay activists and concluded with a shrill rant by longtime pharmaceutical shill Hank Wilson who scored no bonus points for screaming at the judge. Also off her mark was Assistant District Attorney Ana Gonzalez who, after prosecuting AIDS activists in two separate jury trials, has failed to secure guilty verdicts in over half the charges filed against them, including the most serious allegations of violent battery and resisting arrest.

"Our bought-off detractors have only succeeded in strengthening our resolve to pursue the truth and alert the gay community that HIV is a hoax and AIDS drugs are deadly," added ACT UP's Michael Bellefountaine, also HIV-positive.

The meeting disruption from which the charges stem occurred last April when ACT UP activists confronted Project Inform Founding Director Martin Delaney over his public about-face in promoting absolute patient compliance to lifelong dosing schedules of experimental protease inhibitors. Angry activists stormed the public forum to raise awareness that five years ago Delaney, who has no formal medical training or license to prescribe medicine, warned HIV positive gay men to get on -- and stay on -- combinations of new AIDS drugs forever without missing a single dose. Missing a dose, he warned in 1996, would create a "resistant virus that could be passed on sexually to someone else" -- a frightening but bogus viral claim. However, in the year 2000, with alarming reports of deadly side effects and grotesque deformities caused by protease inhibitors and a shocking reversal of federal guidelines that previously urged doctors to "hit hard, hit early" with toxic anti-HIV medications, Delaney and Project Inform quietly changed their tune to allow once prohibited "drug holidays." Unfortunately, this revision arrived too late for the thousands of gay men injured or killed by Project Inform's now-abandoned terror message demanding absolute AIDS drug compliance.

"The Mayor and District Attorney need to get a clue: wasting hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to criminalize political protesters and stamp out AIDS dissent won't fly in San Francisco," concluded activist Todd Swindell. "We will not be silent while gay men are killed by corporate chemical poisoning."

David Pasquarelli: (415) 637-4666
Michael Bellefountaine: (415) 864-6686

Willie L. Brown, Jr.
Office of the Mayor
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 200
San Francisco, CA 94102

April 3, 2001

Honorable Judge Mellon Courtroom 210 400 McAllister Street San Francisco, CA 94102

Dear Judge Mellon:

I am informed that you have scheduled a sentencing today for Michael Bellefountaine, Jason Todd Swindell and David Pasquarelli. I urge you to impose the maximum allowable sentence to deter future violent behavior of the kind for which the defendants have been convicted.

As you know, the defendants, and the ACT UP San Francisco organization, have been responsible for many acts of harassment and violence. Often, these attacks have been directed toward a particularly vulnerable population: those living with HIV, women, lesbians and gay men, people of color and their advocates. Such hate-motivated crimes are particularly unacceptable in San Francisco, where respect for diversity and compassion are core values.

Three weeks ago, I held a summit on violent crime. Our keynote speaker was David Kennedy, a professor with the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Mr. Kennedy argued, I thought persuasively, that the criminal justice system must send clear messages to chronic violent offenders that to continue to engage in violence will lead to clear and certain consequences. Based on extensive research, Mr. Kennedy observed that chronic violent offenders are, in fact, deterred from future violence when they recognize the resources of the criminal justice system are focused on their conduct.

My own experience is instructive. Gerard Livernois, another member of ACT UP San Francisco, assaulted me with a pie. Judge Goldsmith gave Mr. Livernois the maximum sentence: Six months in county jail. I believe that sentence has deterred violent behavior by Mr. Livernois whom I understand has not participated in violent activities since his release from jail.

In this case, as in the case of Mr. Livernois, imposing the maximum sentence will be instructive. A stiff sentence also will help reestablish a climate of fairness and safety for the individuals and groups who have been subjected to such attacks for too long.


Willie L. Brown, Jr.

San Francisco Chronicle
April 3, 2001

Run-In Continues To Anger S.F. Mayor
Brown likens Daly to Dan White

By Edward Epstein, Chronicle Staff Writer

San Francisco -- San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, still angered over a confrontation Friday with Supervisor Chris Daly, yesterday likened Daly to former Supervisor Dan White, who 22 years ago gunned down Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.

"We've had assassinations in this building," Brown told reporters in City Hall. "I've been pied," he also said, referring to the 1998 incident in which protesters hit him in the face with pies. They were later convicted of misdemeanors.

"I'm not going to be the recipient of that," Brown said. "The world should know that."

Daly suggested that Brown's high-pitched rhetoric was a way of singling him out personally rather than talking about the policy issue -- homelessness -- that touched off the confrontation.

As for the Dan White reference, the 28-year-old Daly said, "I believe in nonviolence," adding he doesn't own a gun.

"Let's get real here," Daly said. "I may have to ask for security myself," he said. "I don't want to be a martyr."

Brown, 67, and Daly argued in the mayor's City Hall office during a meeting over homeless policy. The two men and the others in attendance disagree over who did what to whom.

Brown's version of events at the 15-minute meeting was that Daly had become enraged, "used some fairly harsh words" and then gone for the mayor.

Daly said yesterday that Brown had entered the meeting in a belligerent mood, possibly because Daly brought along representatives of the Coalition on Homelessness, one of Brown's least favorite groups.

"I had no idea that brokering a meeting between the mayor and Homeless Coalition was so radical," Daly said.

"The mayor doesn't know how to work with people," said Daly, a community activist who was elected to represent South of Market's District 6 in December. "It's evident from multiple meetings. It's to the point where his conduct in these meetings is reprehensible."

He said the mayor had lunged for him, but had been restrained by Trent Rhorr, the acting head of the Department of Human Services.

Daly's version of events was supported by several people from the Homeless Coalition, who were at the meeting called to discuss contracts for running the city's two biggest shelters. They put out a statement yesterday saying that Brown had "lost his temper and lunged at the supervisor."

Things got heated after Brown said Daly was accusing the mayoral staff of lying. Daly asked the mayor to address the coalition's positions, but Brown refused, according to the statement released by the Homeless Coalition staffers at the meeting.

"It then escalated to Supervisor Daly and Mayor Brown exchanging profanities, and Mayor Brown stating that no one could talk to him that way," they said. "Brown tripped over Rhorr, who was forced to hold him up. Daly then stood up, with Coalition on Homelessness director Paul Boden preventing him from moving anywhere."

Boden said he had seen more heated incidents at City Hall. "I don't think they could have come to blows," he said. "I've seen (former mayor) Art Agnos much more upset than Brown was, and for (state Sen. John) Burton it would have been a coffee klatch."

Brown, however, yesterday upped the verbal assault and suggested that Daly might have mental problems.

"I assume he will be closely watched because he clearly represents something that is not rational," the mayor said. "He's got to be watched. We've had bad things in this city."

Brown, since his election in 1995, has referred from time to time to Moscone's assassination in his City Hall office. Brown, a close friend of Moscone's, was about the last person to see Moscone alive before White shot and killed him Nov. 27, 1978, in the mayor's office. White then shot and killed Milk in Milk's office.

Former Supervisor Amos Brown, a mayoral ally, decried Daly's conduct.

"This is another reflection of the general climate of incivility and meanness that's been directed against Willie Brown," Amos Brown said. "I think it's time we bring it to a screeching halt.

"It almost harkens back to the days when we last had district elections," referring to the era when White was on the board. "I almost hate to mention it, but it has devolved into an atmosphere in which Dan White killed Mayor Moscone."

Daly's colleagues on the board weren't eager to comment on the record about the incident.

But one supervisor said a few members had told Daly yesterday to calm down. "You're not a street activist any more, you're a supervisor," the supervisor said was the gist of the message.

As for an apology, Daly said, "I'm sorry I responded in kind to the mayor. I will apologize that I was lured into the mayor's finger-pointing politics."

ACT UP San Francisco
1884 Market Street * San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: (415) 864-6686 * Fax: (415) 864-6687 *