D.A. threatens La Habra Heights videographer over Youtube video
But the Los Angeles County sheriff’s office who responded to the melee at the La Habra Heights Improvement Association meeting last month could not find enough evidence on the video to charge the two men who attacked him.
So they passed the video to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office who also could not make out whether Edwards was attacked or whether he attacked the two elderly men as they had claimed – both who happen to be two of the most politically connected men in this rural area of Los Angeles County.
Now the district attorney’s office is pursuing bogus criminal charges against Edwards for a completely unrelated incident that also happened to involve his camera and a Youtube video.
“They want to charge me with interfering with a firefighter because I asked the fire chief a question on camera,” he said in an interview with Photography is Not a Crime Sunday night.
“They just didn’t like the question I asked him.”
Edwards, a professional news videographer, asked the following question, which can be seen and heard in the above video:
“Chief, do you feel responsible for only having one fire engine staffed?
Any comment on why you only man one engine?”
La Habra Heights Fire Chief Randy Rohrer, who had just pulled up to a house fire that had just been extinguished by La Habra Height’s only fire engine, was stepping out of his car when Edwards stepped up to him with his camera and fired off his questions.
He planned to upload the video on his site where he covers community news, especially considering he had recently been reporting on how community officials have been lying about the adequate fire protection they’ve been promoting (more on that later).
The incident with the fire chief occurred on May 28, almost a month before the June 17th incident at the improvement association meeting in which Edwards was attacked.
But nobody complained about him interfering with a firefighter until he uploaded the video to Youtube on June 6.
Two days later, the city of La Habra Heights filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office against Edwards. And on June 12, he received a call from a sheriff’s detective inquiring about the video he uploaded to Youtube.
“The detective asked why I asked the chief that question,” he said. “I asked him if it was a crime to ask a question.
“Besides, if I was truly interfering, wouldn’t they have arrested me on the spot?”
And then five days later, he was assaulted by a mob of overly aggressive senior citizens as he attempted to videotape an improvement association meeting.
That incident was not only caught on his professional video camera, but on a point and shoot camera held by another journalist, which went unnoticed by the technological-inept seniors who probably imagined they were shutting down the only video camera in the building.
Edwards combined the two videos into a single video below. Here’s more background on that story from the Whittier Daily News, including a statement from one of the association members saying she now realizes that Edwards had every right to be at the meeting, even though he wasn’t a member.
After Edwards was thrown out of the meeting, he called the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office to report the incident and to inform them that he is making a citizen’s arrest on John Pearce and Jeff Heintz, who in turn informed deputies that they were making a citizen’s arrest on Edwards.
Deputies took statements but made no arrests, even though they charged everybody involved with battery before handing the case over to the district attorney’s office.
After a month of not hearing anything from the district attorney’s office, Edwards called them to learn that because investigators did not see enough evidence of an assault on the video, they set it up for a review hearing on August 10. They also informed him that they would be reviewing the allegations against him involving the fire chief during the same hearing.
“He asked me to bring my press credentials to the meeting,” Edwards said.
“I have the credentials but it shouldn’t make a difference because the Constitution gives protection to anybody who considers themselves press. It’s not up to the local, state or federal government to determine who is press.”
Adding to the confusion, the district attorney’s office sent him a Notice of Office Hearing listing the charge he is facing as “illegal conduct at burning building,” which obviously stems from the first incident.
The letter, which makes no reference to the incident at the improvement association meeting, names Edwards, Heintz and Pearce as respondents.
However, Heintz and Pearce, the two men who attacked him in the meeting, were nowhere near the fire.
Edwards believes this could be a possible plot to threaten him with a criminal charge from the first incident unless he decides to drop charges against the two men from the La Habra Heights Improvement Association who attacked him.
“They’re the kind of people who could pull strings with the D.A.,” he said. “The improvement association controls the city government through backroom deals.
“And the City of La Habra Heights contracts with the sheriff’s office, so if they ask for an investigation, they’re going to get it.”
From what we’ve seen in the first video, the La Habra Heights Improvement Association is under the impression it can do whatever it wants, including one telling moment when Heintz – a retired cop – is chasing Edwards around the gymnasium as he tells him “we are not attacking you, you are attacking members of the improvement association.”
But at La Habra Heights, night is day and day is night.
The California Penal Code listed in the Notice of Office Hearing is 148.2, which states the following:
CA Penal Code:
148.2. Every person who willfully commits any of the following acts at the burning of a building or at any other time and place where any fireman or firemen or emergency rescue personnel are discharging
or attempting to discharge an official duty, is guilty of a misdemeanor:
1. Resists or interferes with the lawful efforts of any fireman or firemen or emergency rescue personnel in the discharge or attempt to discharge an official duty.
2. Disobeys the lawful orders of any fireman or public officer.
3. Engages in any disorderly conduct which delays or prevents a fire from being timely extinguished.
4. Forbids or prevents others from assisting in extinguishing a fire or exhorts another person, as to whom he has no legal right or obligation to protect or control, from assisting in extinguishing a fire.
Edwards claims he did none of the above. Furthermore, he provides Penal Code 409.5 (d), which specifically states members of the media are to be given access to fires.
409.5. (a) Whenever a menace to the public health or safety is created by a calamity including a flood, storm, fire, earthquake, explosion, accident, or other disaster, officers of the Department of the California Highway Patrol, police departments, marshal’s office or sheriff’s office, any officer or employee of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection designated a peace officer by subdivision (g) of Section 830.2, any officer or employee of the Department of Parks and Recreation designated a peace officer by subdivision (f) of Section 830.2, any officer or employee of the Department of Fish and Game designated a peace officer under subdivision (e) of Section 830.2, and any publicly employed full-time lifeguard or publicly employed full-time marine safety officer while acting in a supervisory position in the performance of his or her official duties, may close the area where the menace exists for the
duration thereof by means of ropes, markers, or guards to any and all persons not authorized by the lifeguard or officer to enter or remain within the enclosed area. If the calamity creates an immediate menace to the public health, the local health officer may close the area where the menace exists pursuant to the conditions set forth in this section.
(b) Officers of the Department of the California Highway Patrol, police departments, marshal’s office or sheriff’s office, officers of the Department of Fish and Game designated as peace officers by subdivision (e) of Section 830.2, or officers of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection designated as peace officers by subdivision (g) of Section 830.2 may close the immediate area surrounding any emergency field command post or any other command
post activated for the purpose of abating any calamity enumerated in this section or any riot or other civil disturbance to any and all unauthorized persons pursuant to the conditions set forth in this section whether or not the field command post or other command post is located near to the actual calamity or riot or other civil disturbance.
(c) Any unauthorized person who willfully and knowingly enters an area closed pursuant to subdivision (a) or (b) and who willfully remains within the area after receiving notice to evacuate or leave shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
(d) Nothing in this section shall prevent a duly authorized representative of any news service, newspaper, or radio or television station or network from entering the areas closed pursuant to this section.
Bad Blood Begins
The bad blood between Edwards and certain members of the community goes back to 2002 when he moved to La Habra Heights with his wife and was told there were five fire stations in the community that falls in a very fire hazardous area bordering Los Angeles and Orange counties.
“This is a high-fire danger area,” he said. “We don’t have a fire season. The entire year is fire season.”
Nevertheless, community officials made him and his wife feel safe by leading them to believe there was adequate fire protection.
It turns out, it was all a lie.
“They had five stations at one point, but they closed three down and there were only two left when we moved in ,” he said.
And by 2005, there was only one station left.
So in 2006, Edwards took it upon himself to protect his home and the rest of the community by purchasing a fire engine for $7,200 from New York and drove it back.
“We wanted to donate it to the community but they didn’t want it,” he said.
“They thought they were adequately protected.”
Since he was stuck with the fire engine, he decided to enroll in fire fighting classes in Colorado and California.
And then one day he came upon a car fire in his area of the community, so a police officer asked him to use his truck to put the fire out.
Eventually, the La Habra Heights volunteer fire fighters arrived and took over the job.
But then the city attorney threatened him with criminal charges because he tried to put the fire out.
This is one backwards community.