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Widespread ire over decision to arrest Folsom man

ACLU says Emmer's loitering charge a dose of overkill

Jim Ratajczak, Folsom Telegraph, April 1, 2008

A maelstrom of outrage over Folsom man Victor Emmer's arrest has swept  through the Folsom and El Dorado County communities. Even the American Civil Liberties Union has weighed in on the issue.

The 49-year-old Emmer was arrested at his house March 13 on suspicion of  loitering where children gather after a woman's citizen's arrest warrant  alleged Emmer had spoken to her two children at three different  children's-themed events. Emmer has no prior offenses and is currently free on $100,000 bail. Many community members see him being the true victim. Emmer's story was posted on the Telegraph's Web site shortly after the  arrest and has since received more than 22,000 visits from Web users. User comments, by and large, say Emmer was wronged. One comment reads,

"The notion that you can jail people just for talking, even to children, seems very much in tension with the First Amendment."

Another asks, "Since when is it a crime to speak to children?"

One expletive-laden e-mail sent to the Telegraph said,

"Just because some dumb ignorant (woman) is creeped out by some guy talking to her kids doesn't mean (Emmer) is guilty of committing any crime."

Even Web sites like the Los Angeles-based and Seattle's have picked up the story.

"I can understand the police talking with the guy, or even asking him to stay away from the woman's kids," wrote Radley Balko, the staff member who originally posted the story. "But arresting him? Since when is it a crime to talk to children? The guy isn't a sex offender, has no criminal record and was under no order not to speak to children."

Still, the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department maintains everything  was done by the book.

"The fact is, the sheriff's office responds for service," said sheriff's  Sgt. Bryan Golmitz. "(The victim) articulated a series of events to us to make us believe a crime was committed. We believe there was a crime and it was valid. We're taking all the steps to make sure the community stays safe."

The ACLU, however, thinks those steps included a dose of overkill.

"Assuming he was not doing any harassing or anything sexual, this seems to be an enormous overreaction and violation of (Emmer's) constitutional rights," said Michael Risher, staff attorney for ACLU of Northern California. "Simply hanging around, twiddling your thumbs is not a crime."

Risher stressed he was only familiar with the facts presented in the  original article, but questioned the validity of the arrest and hinted  at a double standard.

"The problem with these loitering statutes is they are often used to  pick on unpopular groups and people," he said. "And it wouldn't surprise me if it were his sex or age or appearance (that led to his arrest). If this were an elderly, very conservatively dressed woman talking to those children, I don't think she would have been tossed in jail with a $100,000 bail."

Golmitz, though, believes the judge agreed to increase Emmer's bail  because of "the deputies' understanding of the victim's complaint and  the possibility of (Emmer's) behavior continuing and endangering  children in the area." One thing is certain, though - Golmitz, Risher and many Web users agree  Emmer's actions were out of the ordinary.

"For the purposes of a children's time event, (Emmer's actions) don't fit with his age bracket," said Golmitz.

"Certainly, if I were in that situation with a child, I might leave or  ask (Emmer) to stop talking to my child," Risher said. "I don't know if I can fault the parent for being uncomfortable."

Victor Emmer could not be reached for comment.

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