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Riverside council critic arrested, cuffed for speaking too long

October 25, 2012 |  2:00 pm

A 60-year-old woman who is a frequent Riverside City Council critic ended up on the floor in handcuffs this week after tussling with a police officer who then handed her a criminal charge.

Her alleged crime? Disrupting a public meeting after speaking longer than her allotted three minutes.

Karen Wright was blasting a proposed city contract for sludge waste removal at the council meeting Tuesday when the red lights blinked, signaling her time was up.

Over the next 30 seconds, Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge tried to stop her four times before a city police officer approached her at the lectern and asked her to sit down.

“No, I’m not sitting down,” Wright told the officer, an exchange captured on the city's video of council proceedings. “No, I am not stepping out.”

It was unclear how she ended up on the floor, but the video shows the officer pulling her arm. Loveridge said police placed handcuffs on her, but quickly took them off after Wright yelled that she was disabled.

Riverside Police Lt. Guy Toussaint said she was arrested on a misdemeanor charge but released on a citation rather than hauled into jail.

He said he did not yet know who the arresting officer was and had not reviewed the police report, but said officers are allowed to handcuff those under arrest for the safety of the suspect and those around them.

“All I was told was that you are given a certain amount of time to make statements to the council and she went over her time,” Toussaint said. “She was asked to leave and she refused to do so.”

Loveridge said that Wright started showing up at council meetings a few years ago and became an active civic participant with “eclectic” interests who spends a lot of time preparing for her remarks.

“She speaks on every single discussion item at every public meeting every time,” Loveridge said. “She speaks more than any council member or any mayor.”

In fact, Loveridge said, Wright returned to council chambers after her run-in with police and spoke on two more items -- bringing her total speaking appearances to six on Tuesday. On some days, he said, she will fill out as many as 20 speaker cards.

The mayor said the only other incident involving police during his 32 years as a Riverside council member or mayor occurred several years ago, when a speaker slammed a knife into the lectern.

As some residents criticized the arrest, Loveridge said the council has already changed the rules: As of Wednesday, he said, the meeting chair, not the police, will decide who to eject from council chambers.

Wright told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that she was shocked at what happened and doesn’t believe she did anything wrong.

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--Teresa Watanabe

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