By: M.L. STEIN
A REPORTER FOR a California weekly was arrested and handcuffed following a wild City Hall melee in which he accused officials of denying him documents in violation of the state’s open records act.
Steven Sabel, 26, of the Perris Progress in Riverside County, was charged with suspicion of battery and disturbing the peace, but was released on his own recognizance.
During the episode, furniture was pushed around and a typewriter table fell on the foot of Perris’ personnel director Johnny McLeod-Hoover.
In separate interviews, Sabel and McLeod-Hoover agreed that Sabel yelled loudly when he demanded the papers, but they differed sharply on how the typewriter stand was knocked over.
Since last July, according to Sable, the Progress, which is owned by his father-in-law, has requested the city’s water and sewer records from 1911 ? the year the city was incorporated ? for an investigative story on the safety of the systems.
“They stonewalled us every time we asked,” Sabel said.
When he went to City Hall last month to renew his demand, Sabel continued, city clerk Melissa Morales was leaving for lunch, but indicated that her assistant, Yavonne Sims-Ward, would produce the papers for him.
After waiting several minutes with no sign that Sims-Ward was getting the documents, Sabel said, “I began yelling at the top of my voice, ‘I want the documents. I want service. I won’t leave until I get my documents.’ Then I began pounding a desk with the flat of my hand. I’m also an actor and have been trained on how to use my voice.”
The commotion drew the attention of McLeod-Hoover, who said she came from her nearby office and tried to calm Sabel, who was “very loud and most intimidating.”
From that point, her memory of the episode differed from Sabel’s.
“She was trying to shoo me out,” Sabel said. “I tried to explain my problem to her, but she kept getting in my face, saying, ‘No, you have to leave.’ “
Sabel, who is six feet four inches, said he began moving furniture between him and McLeod-Hoover as she pursued him around the reception area.
McLeod-Hoover, who is five foot two inches, accused Sabel of taking plaques off a shelf and tossing them on the floor.
“He also was screaming that he pays our salaries and that he had a right to carry on like that,” she added. “I told him that his behavior was not going to get him what he wanted.”
When the typewriter landed on the personnel director’s foot, she said, she made a citizen’s arrest of Sabel.
“He was going for the typewriter and I thought he was going to throw it at me,” McLeod-Hoover said, claiming Sabel pushed over the typewriter table.
Sabel said McLeod-Hoover shoved the table aside as she chased him.
She said her doctor found no bones broken, but treated her for swelling.
“I never threatened anyone,” Sabel insisted. “While she was chasing me, I picked up the phone to dial 911, but she yanked it out of my hands.”
McLeod-Hoover agreed and said she told Sabel it was not a public telephone.
Someone else in the building apparently did dial 911, because Perris Police Chief Jeff Turley arrived and ordered Sabel to sit down, McLeod-Hoover said.
Sabel complained in the interview that after being taken into custody, he was placed in a room where two men, who appeared to be detectives, interrogated him at length to determine if he was on drugs.
“I’m a journalist, not a drug addict,” he said in the interview.
The Progress covered the incident in a straight story written by Sabel’s wife, Etha, editor of the paper and daughter of owner John Hoban.
Chief Turley was quoted in the account as saying that two women who work in City Hall were “terrified” to return to the building for fear of Sabel.
Hoban was reported as stating that Sabel was authorized by the Progress to inspect and retrieve the sewer and water documents.
The story also said that after Sabel’s arrest, city attorney Elise Traynum gave Hoban 10 pages of the documents.
This was not Steven Sabel’s first dispute with city officials.
He said he has sued the former mayor for slander and breach
of contract after she allegedly reneged on an agreement
for him and his wife to produce a play under municipal auspices.
Sabel, who said he and Etha are actors and theatrical producers, commented: “We’re trying to bring a little culture to Perris.”
?(“I began yelling at the top of my voice, ‘I want the documents. I want service. I won’t leave until I get my documents.’ Then I began pounding a desk with the flat of my hand. I’m also an actor and have been trained on how to use my voice.”) [ Caption ]
?(Steven Sabel, reporter, Perris (Calif.) Progress) [Caption & Photo]