Bahai News - 4 in ACT UP Charged in Shoving/Conflict between factions over AIDS policy Tuesday, May 16, 2000

4 in ACT UP Charged in Shoving
Conflict between factions over AIDS policy flares anew with incidents

Christopher Heredia, Chronicle Staff Writer

San Francisco -- Prosecutors filed misdemeanor charges yesterday against four members of the AIDS activist group ACT UP San Francisco for allegedly bursting into a public health forum last month and shoving a woman who helped plan the event.

Members of the mainstream AIDS groups that sponsored the forum said the incident was the latest in an escalating conflict with members of ACT UP San Francisco, which in the 1980s fought for AIDS drugs and now has aligned itself with a small faction of ``AIDS dissidents'' who believe HIV doesn't cause AIDS.

Battery and trespassing charges were filed against David Pasquarelli and Andrea Lindsay; Jason Swindell and Michael Bellefountaine were charged with trespassing.

The charges arose from a meeting April 17 sponsored by Project Inform and Survive AIDS, both AIDS education and advocacy organizations. Pasquarelli and Lindsay allegedly shoved Project Inform outreach worker Judy Leahy-Hogan, who injured her right knee when she fell.

ACT UP San Francisco believes that mainstream AIDS groups like Project Inform and Survive AIDS promote ``poison'' drugs that cause the disease and that the AIDS epidemic is a medical fraud promulgated by pharmaceutical companies, scientists and doctors.

``There are dozens of AIDS groups in this town who despite their differences work together toward a common cause,'' said Martin Delaney, founding director of Project Inform. ``Somehow these guys are determined to fly in the face of that.''

Derek St. Pierre, a lawyer representing the four ACT UP San Francisco members, denied that his clients had engaged in violence.

``They were expressing their political opinions at an open public forum,'' St. Pierre said. ``Typically, these kinds of charges are used against political activists to squelch dissent.''

Fred Gardner, a spokesman for District Attorney Terence Hallinan's office, said, ``The D.A.'s not trying to send any message. He's just upholding the law.''

Battery is punishable by a maximum of six months in county jail and a $2,000 fine. The maximum penalty for trespassing is six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Earlier this month, a San Francisco County Superior Court judge granted temporary restraining orders against five ACT UP San Francisco members, forbidding them from coming within 100 yards of Project Inform offices, employees or events.

Presiding Judge Alfred Chiantelli will consider extending that restraining order for three years at a hearing May 24. Members of the group were banned for several years from going near employees of San Francisco AIDS Foundation after they allegedly dumped used cat litter on the foundation's executive director.

According to prosecutors and witnesses, members of ACT UP San Francisco tried to get into the meeting April 17 at the Baha'i Center on Valencia Street, screaming, chanting, waving signs and throwing hard pills at people in the audience.

``I've participated in political demonstrations, and what they did was not that,'' said Leahy-Hogan, whose badly bruised knee was treated at Kaiser. ``It was violence. They can believe anything, but they can't hit people.

``It's important that people stand up and say we'll have zero tolerance for violence,'' she said.

The forum was attended by physicians and people with AIDS discussing treatment ``vacations'' from AIDS drugs.

Prosecuting the ACT UP San Francisco members is ``the right step,'' said Delaney, who said he had pills thrown in his face at the meeting. ``Every other method we've tried has failed. No one has ever tried to stop them. We've been tolerant, hired security, got restraining orders and it just keeps coming up.

``There is a lot of support in the community for drawing a line and saying it's going no further.''

Chronicle staff writer Jaxon Van Derbeken contributed to this report.


©Copyright 2000, San Francisco Chronicle

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