Arrested for trying to visit a friend in the hospital (personal account)

A good friend of mine, Jon Sugar, was recently hospitalized at University of California San Francisco's Long Hospital for knee surgery. On Monday night I went to visit him during his recovery, along with Rudy, a new friend from Vancouver who'd been staying here a few days. We'd had dinner at Cha Cha Cha's, a Mexican restaurant on Haight Street, and then walked over to UCSF on Parnassus Avenue. It was fairly late by the time we got to the hospital, at least 11pm, but I thought well, either we'll be able to see Jon or we won't. Unfortunately things turned out not to be that straightforward. I'm sending out this written account of what happened to several lists and to members of the media because I think the public should know how certain authorities are operating.

  When we walked into Long Hospital building (505 Parnassus), we were immediately stopped at a guard booth where they asked to see our UC identification. I said we didn't have university I.D.s, we were just there to see someone staying in the hospital. The security guard said that wasn't possible. I asked him to call upstairs and check with the nurses. His supervisor, a caucasian woman named Mary Ann Henry, came over. She was unfriendly and belligerent from the get-go, interrupting as I was trying to talk to her, and completely unwilling to hear me out. She told me she smelled alcohol on me and accused me of being drunk. While we'd had some sangrias with dinner, I was speaking clearly and not exhibiting any signs of being under the influence. Hardly drunk. But she told us to leave, and when I tried to finish telling her what I'd been interrupted from saying, she and another guard physically assaulted me by pushing me toward the door (Rudy, who'd been quietly standing by as I did the talking, was already heading out). Outside, I spoke to another guard who seemed relatively friendly (a bit older and Hispanic to my best recollection) and tried to see if he would be any more cooperative and call upstairs, but he said she was in charge and wouldn't do anything further.

  To those reading this who may feel I was behaving unreasonably and should have just meekly left without any questions and not come back, please consider this: The mission of a hospital is to *help people get well!* Numerous studies have found that being in good spirits and having a positive outlook can have a major healing effect. And what hospital patient is not cheered up by having well-wishing family, friends and loved ones visit? So what if it was past "visiting hours?" (Not that any of the guards ever actually bothered to tell us what the visiting hours were.) In an institution that operates on a 24-hour basis, where patients are routinely woken up at all hours of the day and night, why should visitors be limited to certain hours to begin with? And if not the patient him or herself, shouldn't it be the doctors or nurses working with a patient, rather than some lobby security guard with no medical training or knowledge of the patient's condition, who makes the medical decision of whether to allow a visitor in, when an after-hours visit is requested? I wasn't there simply to provide cheer; I had also brought my laptop computer with me, as Jon had specifically asked I do so that he could check his email. While UCSF is to be commended for having direct phone lines to hospital rooms, Internet access while hospitalized evidently remains a thing of the future even at this generally well-regarded institution. How many of you would be happy going a week or so without being online while in the middle of a large U.S. city?

   I had the direct number to Jon's hospital room with me, but my cell phone wasn't getting any reception. So Rudy and I walked down the street a bit, trying to find a place from which I'd be able to call. Noticing there was another building next door which appeared to be connected, I decided to see whether it would be possible to go in that way. The doors were locked, but a guard came over and opened them to let me in. Again he asked for my UCSF ID, and again I explained I was just there to see someone staying at the hospital. I asked him if he'd call upstairs and ask whether we could come up, which he seemed reluctant to do, but eventually left his station to (as I thought at the time) go make that call. During his absence, I discovered that strangely enough I was getting reception inside the building, even though I'd been unable to get a signal outside. So I called up to Jon's room and reached him. As we were talking and I was explaining that I was in the hospital lobby trying to be allowed up to visit him which he would have liked, the guard returned with several of the other security guards from next door at 505 Parnassus, who surrounded me. Jon and I hung up, and as it became clear they were not going to let me go upstairs, I attempted to walk out of the building. An Asian guard (last name Tom) moved to block my path, physically preventing me from leaving. He demanded I sit down. I asked him several times if I was under arrest, which he refused to answer, instead saying I was being "detained." (It seems to be a common tactic of police officers to avoid answering questions that might allow civilians to avail themselves of their rights.) Eventually this officer Tom proceeded to handcuff me, which I allowed him to do. The other guards were asking where the person who was with me was, and one of them reported seeing Rudy outside, so a guard went out to talk with him. At this point I was sitting down, but by turning my head I could see Rudy and the guard conversing outside. Officer Tom demanded I face straight ahead in the opposite direction, which was totally unnecessary, since I was obviously seated and not going anywhere, so I persisted in looking, because I wanted to see what was happening with my friend. This appeared to infuriate Tom, who proceeded with help from another guard or two to forcibly twist me around in the chair, and then to throw me onto the floor. They also tightened the cuffs to a degree that was quite painful. During the course of all this, I called out to a couple passers-by to phone the police, as I'd had enough of these goons and thought the real cops might handle the situation more reasonably. But I don't know that the SFPD were ever called.

  In due course the UCSF cops hauled me up and out of the building and I was deposited into a police car (apparently the hospital police are quite well funded, with their own squad cars and everything). They drove me across the street into a deserted underground garage (experienced criminals know it's best to take your victims somewhere away from potential witnesses). Several times during this time I told them the handcuffs were hurting me and cutting off my circulation, but to no avail. When they parked in the garage and told me to get out, I said I'd cooperate if they just stopped torturing me and loosened the handcuffs. They'd already searched my pockets at the hospital, and now proceeded to search the contents of my backpack (without my permission, needless to say). One of them found a small amount of cannabis and a pipe, but another cop, having gone through my wallet, told her that I had a cannabis card. Despite the state law (Proposition 215) allowing medical use and possession of cannabis, these University of California police stated their intention to take both my medicine and pipe and throw them away, which they apparently did as these items were not among the belongings eventually returned to me. Either that or they went into someone's private stash. It will be interesting to see whether the confiscation makes it into their incident report, assuming I'm able to get a copy of that document.

  Eventually they forcibly dragged me out of the squad car. I began to sarcastically ask them if they enjoyed inflicting pain, maybe they just wanted to beat me up if it would really get them off, etc. Why they took me out of the car I'm not even sure, because soon they were trying to force me back into the car again. Damned if I was going to make that easy for them either. They still hadn't read me my rights, and they were treating me inhumanely. It turns out to be surprisingly difficult for several people to force one uncooperative person into the back seat of a vehicle, even when that person is handcuffed! When they started shoving me in that direction, I braced myself with a foot against the rear door of the squad car, which when they continued shoving me, was forced back on its hinges further than it was meant to go. When they opened and closed it afterward, it was no longer swinging smoothly, which I observed with some satisfaction, but also trepidation when I heard them saying I'd committed a felony (I was not ultimately charged with any felony, so it's unclear whether they subsequently changed their minds, were simply lying to try to scare me, or just plain ignorant of the law). They never did force me into the car, but one of them bent my arm back so hard and sharply that I seriously thought he might break it, and when I told him he was going to break my arm, he said he was going to do "whatever it takes" and sounded quite determined about it, so at that point I decided to voluntarily get in. I guess threatening to break peoples' limbs isn't just for the mafia any more! It would have been past ironic if an employee of the hospital had threatened to kneecap someone visiting a friend who was in for knee surgery. I'm sorry that I didn't get that gentleman's name.

  Officer Tom drove me to the San Francisco County Jail, where I was taken into custody and booked. The sheriff's deputies who received me never made any pretense about trying to learn both sides of the story, although I attempted to protest what was being done and told them I wanted to file charges of my own. I got the impression that they have a strong and automatic bias in favor of other uniformed government employees over ordinary civilians -- the fact that this is "normal" and expected doesn't make it right. Despite the fact that I hadn't been properly arrested, let alone convicted of anything, their communication with me consisted of barking orders and treating me like a criminal if not an animal. If what I observed in the subsequent hours was typical, this is how prisoners in the jail are generally treated.

  After being searched some more and fingerprinted, I was interviewed by a woman from the Health Department. Among other things, she asked me whether I was drunk. I told her I considered it an inappropriate question, given that this was one of the charges being laid against me, and that several deputies were standing around listening to our conversation. At which point I overheard one of the deputies mockingly tell the others to put their hands over their ears. The Health Department lady said she was just trying to find out whether I might need any medical attention during my stay.

  Eventually I was put into a cell where a couple men were already lying on the bare, concrete floor trying to sleep. A low concrete wall served as a partial divider between a small area with an open toilet and sink and the rest of the cell. There was nothing else in the cell, but the floor was quite dirty. Lying down in the most vacant spot, I noticed what appeared to be a number of pubic hairs near where I had to lay my head. During the course of the night, three or four more prisoners were added to the cell, and a couple removed. One guy had been picked up for drunk driving. Or actually, according to him -- and from his general demeanor he seemed like an average guy who would've admitted it if he'd been doing more -- for driving 5-10 miles an hour over the speed limit on the Bay Bridge (something that seems to be more the rule than the exception for people crossing the bridge). He said he was almost 50 years old and had never been arrested or been to jail before in his life, and was never going to repeat the experience. I said if things in this country keep sliding toward a police state, don't be too sure of that. Another guy they brought in was probably no more than 25, very clean-cut, slight of build, and completely harmless looking. Gay I suspect, although I didn't ask. He'd been picked up for being drunk in public, and had a nice bruise on the side of his head where he said the cops who arrested him had thrown him on the ground. Also a pain in his shoulder from the same incident. Both of them also reported not having been read their rights, so perhaps the UCSF cops are just following the example set by the SFPD.

  At 5:00 a.m., a deputy clanged his way into the holding cell and loudly asked if we wanted any food, repeating it a couple times for those who were asleep. I actually had no idea of the hour at the time, but from a sign I later noticed elsewhere in the jail indicating that breakfast is at 5:00 a.m., I assume that must have been when it was. "Breakfast" consisted of four pieces of bland-looking sliced bread, a tiny carton of orange juice, a slice of processed cheese food, and a gob of peanut butter in a plastic bag. The only thing that looked at all appetizing was the orange juice, so I declined the rest, thankful I'd had a sizable late dinner. That was the only sustenance I was offered during the ten hours or so I was at the jail. Some time after "breakfast," one of the prisoners who'd been asleep at the time woke up and found he'd missed the "meal." He called for a guard, who came over and explained that they hadn't been able to wake him up, so he missed it. The prisoner began loudly demanding food, yelling at the guards and pretty soon insulting them with all kinds of vile expletives. He rambled on extensively about how he was a Vietnam vet, had been an MP in the military, et cetera. His story seemed a bit dubious, not least because one of the guards told him he'd been in the military himself and that the designation for military police is 95-bravo, not something-charlie, as the guy in the cell was spouting off about. Of all the people in the "drunk tank," he was the only one I saw who appeared indubitably drunk. Although I was tired of listening to the guy, as were the others in the cell, I was also somewhat concerned that the deputies were going to take him out and get violent with him due to all the abusive language he was directing at them. Finally they did take him out, but to their credit they didn't respond inappropriately, at least not then by the sounds of things, because we could still hear him carrying on for some time from whatever new location he'd been placed.

  I spent most of the night in that first holding cell, but in the morning was shuttled through three different cells, to no apparent purpose. A couple of these rooms had flakes all over the floors from the deteriorating paint on the walls, and at least one of the ceilings featured what appeared to be large wet spots. I wondered about asbestos and mold. Indeed whether it was from breathing that unhealthy atmosphere or just from the cold, a cough that I'd gotten rid of a week or so earlier had started to come back. By morning just before being released, I noticed at least two of the five or so other guys in the room where I was at that point were also coughing. Although I'd been fingerprinted when booked, I was fingerprinted again in the morning, this time using a very high-tech, Xerox-sized fingerprinting device that involved putting your fingers in liquid over glass. The machine captured digital images directly onto a screen, and rejected them if they weren't clear enough. The civilian employee administering the fingerprinting took a print of every single finger, as well as both palms, rolling each finger from side to side in order to capture a broader print. The machine was called an Identifix, or something like that. I noted with dark amusement that both the fingerprinting area, and the area where we were weighed and photographed, had signs on the wall admonishing prisoners "Do not ask for food, we do not have any!" or words to that effect.

  Finally, around 11:00 a.m., I was processed out. The female deputy giving me my stuff back seemed friendly enough, until the point when I protested signing for receipt of my belongings before having a chance to check and see whether they were all accounted for. "We don't want your stuff!" she told me harshly, and threatened to have me put back in the cell if I didn't sign. So I committed one of the kind of small lies that government forces people to commit all the time on various forms and documents, and signed a slip saying I'd received specific items of property when in fact I had no way of knowing whether this was true. Fortunately it turned out they did not, as far as I could tell, steal any of my belongings, which was a relief since I'd been particularly worried that my laptop computer or digital camera might "disappear."
  I was charged with the following offenses, copied here precisely as typed on a piece of paper along with the date and time I was arrested, and other brief identifying info:

594 (B) ; VANDALISM $50,000 OR MORE (they expect to pay how much to get a car door rehinged??)
647 (F) ; DRUNK RWS ; DISM 16

  Perhaps some of you more knowledgeable about law enforcement lingo than I am can explain some of these abbreviations (PC1/M? RWS? DISM 16?) and save me the trouble of researching them. Upon being released from jail, I was told that the "drunk" charge was being dropped, but that for the remaining charges I was being ordered to appear in court the following morning, which turned out to be at the "Hall of Justice" right next door to the jail at 850 Bryant Street.

  Listed on the sheet along with the charges is a section headed "INFORMATION FOR ARRESTED PERSONS." From the contents, this form appears to have been designed to be given to arrestees when they are booked, but I and the other prisoners I witnessed being released from jail were only given these sheets upon release. The subhead reads "IMPORTANT: THIS DOCUMENT IS YOUR NOTIFICATION OF CHARGES AND INDENTIFICATION (sic) WHICH IS GIVEN TO YOU ALONG WITH YOUR PROPERTY RECEIPT. KEEP BOTH FORMS WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES. I never received a property receipt at all.

  Under that are listed seven points. One of the points listed is, "AFTER BOOKING, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE THREE COMPLETED PHONE CALLS IN THE LOCAL DIALING AREA. PHONE CALLS MADE OUTSIDE THE LOCAL AREA WILL BE AT ARRESTEES EXPENSE." Two others are, "YOU MAY BE VISITED BY AN ATTORNEY OF YOUR CHOICE," and "VISITING HOURS ARE POSTED IN THE LOBBY OF THE JAIL (not very helpful, since prisoners would not have access to the lobby area while incarcerated!)

  At no time was I offered any phone call, let alone three. The cell I was in most of the night did not have a phone. Only a couple hours or so before being released was I put in a cell that did have a single phone, and it was in use by a couple prisoners virtually the entire time I was there. Granted, I never bothered to ask to use a phone; I was cold and tired and sore and mainly just wanted to sleep. But I should have been informed of my rights in a timely fashion regardless, as should all detainees.

  The morning of the day following my release, I got up early and went to my court appearance. Of course there was the usual unconstitutional search in order to enter the courthouse at 850 Bryant. (I consider it a telling reflection of whose safety the State cares about, that members of the public are forced to go through metal detectors and physical searches in order to enter a public building where lots of government employees work, despite the fact that it's also full of armed police officers including some specifically on guard duty, but if a poor woman who has to walk alone through a dangerous neighborhood at night wants to carry a handgun in her purse, they consider her a criminal.) Upon reporting to Room 101 at 9:00 a.m. as ordered, I was told to go upstairs to Department 14 (judge Lorraine George?). I'd been sitting in the courtroom a few minutes, along with all the other poor souls cooling their heels waiting for the judge, when in came my clean-cut young cellmate from the county jail who'd been arrested for allegedly being drunk in public.

  After the two of us had sat through the proceedings of most of the other people in the courtroom, at around 10:30 a.m. the assistant district attorney, who'd been there the whole time, read out both of our names and announced to us that the D.A.'s office had decided to drop all the charges against us, though cautioning that they could decide to refile the charges at any time for up to a year. Of course this was good news and I was glad to hear it, but I couldn't help reflecting that over an hour of my time had just been wasted by his failure to communicate this information sooner. At that point I was free to leave, and the normal course of things is for innocent people who've just had their rights abused and wrongfully incarcerated, to simply walk away without so much as an apology from anyone in the criminal justice system. But instead I stood up, and just stood there until the judge noticed me and asked if I had a question. In a few sentences I politely told her what had happened to me. I said I wanted to file charges or a complaint, that my wrists still hurt, my left one being swollen, and that my hands were still partially numb from the cuffs, this more than 24 hours after they'd been removed. She was not unpleasant, but advised me to pursue it as a civil matter. I also asked her if she could order a copy of my police report to be provided to me. From my only previous arrest, in a prostitution sting by Fremont police that targeted me from an Internet ad, I've learned how ridiculously difficult it can be to get a copy of the document pertaining to one's own arrest. But the judge said she had no authority to do that.

  Upon leaving the courtroom, I went upstairs to room 475 to get a copy of my police report. It wasn't in their system yet, and since the SFPD wasn't involved, the clerk wasn't sure whether the UCSF police would be sending them a "courtesy copy" of their report or not. I asked them to mail me a copy if it arrived, which they said they'd do, but I'm not holding my breath. I was however pleasantly surprised to learn that they apparently don't charge for police reports, unlike the city of Fremont, which ripped me off for $10 for about a half dozen black and white photocopied pages. With SF's city government raising fees right and left and generally soaking people however they can to bring in more revenue these days, I wonder how long this will last.

  Since going home, I have left a phone message for the police chief at UCSF informing her I want to file a complaint or charge with their internal affairs department, but so far have not heard back. Writing this more than 72 hours after my arrest, I can still feel some pain in my wrists when I bend them, and the sides of my hands along each pinky finger still have some residual numbness.

Love & Liberty,
        ((( starchild )))


The way you were treated was an outrage! I hope you are OK, and I am thankful that you are out of jail. I agree with you: America (blue states and red states) is falling deeper into a police-state way-of-life. I hope your friend, Jon Sugar, has regained his health and is out of the hospital. Also, I hope you are not tied up in another long, drawn-out, expensive, waste-of-your- time, court battle. Thanks for posting your report.

All the best,

Don Fields

Thank you, Don. At this point all the charges were dropped, so it looks like no court battle unless I choose to sue, which I probably won't as it's too much trouble & expense. Jon was released from the hospital and is now resting up at home.

Love & Liberty,
        ((( starchild )))