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'Clown suit activist' arrested for allegedly threatening Bell city clerk at council meetings [Updated]

October 20, 2010 |  2:57 pm

A political activist known for attending municipal government meetings in a clown suit has been arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats against the Bell city clerk.

Sheriff's deputies arrested Edwin Thomas Snell, 63, on Tuesday on the steps of the L.A. County Hall of Administration, where he was attending a Board of Supervisors meeting.

He was being held Wednesday in lieu of $1-million bail, according to the Sheriff's Department website.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said a Bell City Council member, whom he did not name, said Snell made threats directed at a staff member during a recent council meeting.

Prosecutors said the threat was directed at Bell city clerk Rebecca Valdez.

[Updated 3:45 p.m.: A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said Snell would be arraigned on the criminal threats charge Thursday in Superior Court in Downey. The case against Snell, who has two previous felony convictions, was filed as a third-strike case that could potentially bring life in prison.

But Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for D.A. Steve Cooley, said Wednesday that under the district attorney's policy, which sets a high bar for any case that could bring a life sentence, the case will probably be handled as though this were Snell's second strike. She said the charge grew out of a threat related to a public records act request.]

That led an unidentified council member to file a police report, and authorities issued a felony arrest warrant for Snell. City officials had previously sought and obtained a civil restraining order against Snell.

Snell, known as the "clown suit activist" because he wears the costume to government meetings across the state, often disparages public officials during public comment periods.

But authorities said they there was little humor in his alleged run-in in Bell, which has been rocked by scandals over high salaries and alleged corruption.

"Clown suit or no clown suit, some things aren't funny," Whitmore said.

-- Andrew Blankstein