By Ken Stone
Two days after the Rev. Shane Harris called on San Diego police to cite organizers of Saturday’s “freedom rally” against COVID-19 orders, a San Diego woman has been notified she’s facing a $1,000 fine or jail time.
Naomi Soria, 27, on Wednesday confirmed she was facing penalties for the downtown protest that drew hundreds. Later, she announced another rally this Sunday in Pacific Beach. Soria also goes by Naomi Israel on Facebook and Naomi Castaneda.
On Facebook, Soria posted that she would be arrested for exercising her constitutional rights.“I have attorneys ready and an entire team here to protect me but I need your help,” she said. “Centers for American Liberty is assisting with my cause and has put up a way for you to help fundraise the money for my attorneys fees and any fees involved in this fight. 🇺🇸”
Mark Meuser, an attorney with The Dhillon Law Group, told Times of San Diego in a phone interview that his group — led by Republican activist Harmeet Dhillon — would represent Soria over the constitutional issues he said were being violated and fend off any criminal charges that might be filed against her.
The Center for American Liberty also will cover Soria’s legal fees, he said.
Soria told Don Harrison of San Diego Jewish World that she’s been getting death threats.
“She said that her attorney plans to turn over to the FBI the threats that have been made against her via Facebook,” Harrison wrote Wednesday night.
While named in news stories as Naomi Israel, she told Harrison those are her first and middle names. Her last name, she said, is Soria.
In response to Harrison’s questions, she said she is not Jewish, but rather “I am Mexican and Sicilian. My name Naomi means beautiful and pleasant and my middle name Israel means princess of God. My name is very biblical. … I love Naomi Israel because of the power in my name.”
Attorney Meuser — who made a bike trip as an unsuccessful GOP candidate for California secretary of state in November 2018 — said Soria sent him a Facebook message Tuesday that the Police Department wanted to talk to her and Meuser agreed to be on the morning call.
“I heard the police officer say that they are recommending that the city attorney issue a warrant for her arrest,” he said.
Naomi is holding Peaceful Protest, in San Diego. Per @GrahamLedger San Diego PD are prepping a warrant for her arrest.
— ERIN CRUZ FOR CALIFORNIA (CA-36) (@RealErinCruz) April 23, 2020
The San Diego Police Department confirmed it has contacted the City Attorney’s Office “requesting their review to issue charges against the protest organizer for violating the county health order by organizing a gathering,” City News Service reported.
But a spokeswoman for City Attorney Mara Elliott said as many as 20,000 cases are referred to her office every year, and a law enforcement officer “may take weeks to prepare a case before it is referred to our office for review by attorneys.”
“Case review itself can take weeks, and sometimes longer, to determine if misdemeanor charges will be filed,” the spokeswoman said. “Attorneys in the Criminal Division continue to review cases despite changes in their work environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Center for American Liberty said it was not aware of any other protest participants facing potential criminal charges.
Soria didn’t responded to Times requests for comment but told CBS8 that she has “all the amendments” supporting her Sunday rally plans.
A news release Wednesday from the liberty center said: “The San Diego Police Department informed a 27-year-old woman today that she is being charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days and/or a $1,000 fine, for her participation in a peaceful protest … in San Diego,”
The release said the Center for American Liberty would provide legal representation to a woman it didn’t name, aided by The Dhillon Law Group of San Francisco.
“An estimated 400 people gathered in San Diego to peacefully protest Governor Newsom’s shutdown of the state’s economy,” said the release from the center, founded by Dhillon in 2019. “At this time, we are unaware of any other participants being charged with a crime. The charged protester had shared information about the protest on social media, which may have led to the authorities deciding to single her out for punishment.”
In a statement, Dhillon said: “The First Amendment guarantees the right to peacefully protest. Our client participated in a responsible protest adhering to social distancing guidelines. She, along with other protestors, stood six feet apart on a public sidewalk.”
Dhillon called it outrageous that her client was being charged with a crime for taking part in constitutionally protected activity.
“The right to assemble and to petition the government does not exist if there are topics that are off limit,” she said.
“Governor Newsom cannot shut down the state’s economy and then prosecute criminally freedom-loving Californians who peacefully protest his decision,” Dhillon added. “Nor may county and city officials abuse their power to punish protesters expressing protected opinions and doing so in a lawful and safe manner. We intend to fight San Diego’s punishment of our client if the authorities decide to proceed with this ill-advised attempt to chill the speech of Americans.”
On Monday, a joint police-sheriff statement said: “While no citations were issued at the protests, that does not mean prosecution will not be sought, especially to the organizers of these events.”
In a Facebook Live statement Wednesday from the Paradise Hills headquarters of his People’s Alliance for Justice, Harris thanked Police Chief David Nisleit for answering his “call to action.”
But Harris said he didn’t want to see “Naomi Campbell” and other protest organizers go to jail.
“I do not want them to face jail time,” he said. “I don’t think this is a time to send anybody to jail.”
Instead he called on protesters to observe social distancing rules and wear face masks.
“What I would say to Naomi Campbell and all the organizers. … I understand how you feel. Let’s be a little better at organizing … to protect the public health,” Harris said.
Updated at 9:05 p.m. April 22, 2020
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: