Two taken into custody, held on $500,000 bail after hearing

By Bob Egelko

San Francisco Chronicle 29 Nov. 2001

, and this article from the New York Times.

Two AIDS activists were arrested in a San Francisco courthouse yesterday and charged with stalking and making terrorist threats against city health officials and staff members of The Chronicle.

David Pasquarelli and Michael Petrelis were held on $500,000 bail each. Both had come to Superior Court for a hearing on civil harassment suits by two public health officials and five Chronicle reporters and editors, all allegedly the targets of threatening telephone calls. They were arrested in a hallway after the hearing.

"No quarantine of gay men in San Francisco!" Pasquarelli shouted as he was taken away in handcuffs.

Pasquarelli is a member of ACT UP/San Francisco, a group that has clashed with mainstream AIDS organizations over its belief that AIDS is not caused by HIV. He and other members have been convicted of disturbing the peace for disrupting public health meetings and throwing objects at officials, but yesterday's felony charges, punishable by a sentence of as long as three years in prison, raised the stakes considerably.

"Stalking is a crime of mental terrorism," said Reginald Smith, spokesman for District Attorney Terence Hallinan. "The defendants have been on a campaign of terror against these victims, who fear for their safety and for their families' safety."

Michael Bellefountaine, another member of ACT UP/San Francisco, called the courthouse arrests a "cowardly ambush" and described the charges and hefty bail as "overkill meant to deny them their liberty, to punish them for aggravating some influential people in the city." He said the men would ask for a reduction in bail or release without bail when they appear in court, perhaps as late as Monday.

Pasquarelli and Petrelis may have used "inappropriate" language on the telephone, Bellefountaine said, but they did not intend to harass or threaten anyone. He said the matter should be handled with civil restraining orders, not criminal charges.

The charges require proof that the defendants intended to place their victims in fear for their safety or the safety of their immediate families. The men are also charged with conspiracy, criminal harassment, and, in Pasquarelli's case, violation of a restraining order.

According to papers filed by The Chronicle's lawyers, Pasquarelli and Petrelis, another AIDS dissident who frequently contacts the news media, started making threatening phone calls after the newspaper published articles last month about the rise of unsafe sex practices among gay men in San Francisco and an increase in syphilis among gay and bisexual men.

Reporters said in court declarations that late-night callers to their homes told them "gay rage... has you in its sights," promised to hunt them down and mentioned spouses and children by name. The Chronicle evacuated its offices Nov. 11 after getting a bomb threat that the newspaper's lawyers attributed to one of the activists.

Superior Court Judge James Robertson issued a temporary restraining order Nov. 12 barring the two men from contacting any Chronicle employee or coming within 300 yards of the newspaper's offices or employees. Several reporters said they got additional threatening calls three days later.

Two city health officials, Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, director of sexually transmitted disease prevention, and Michael Shriver, Mayor Willie Brown's AIDS adviser, also reported receiving similar calls from both men. Shriver said he stopped staying at his home after a threatening message from Pasquarelli.

At yesterday's hearing on the civil harassment suits, Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay extended the restraining orders protecting The Chronicle and its employees until Dec. 20 and granted similar orders forbidding contact with city health officials.