Petaluma bar patrons criticize police reaction to clash

December 14, 2010
About 100 bar patrons faced off against dozens of police in a downtown Petaluma street early Tuesday in an angry confrontation that ended with arrests and injuries.

Some patrons questioned the actions of bar security personnel, who they say threatened people with a Taser, and of police, who they claim hit a man with a patrol car. One officer also suffered bite wounds from a police dog as the chaotic scene unfolded at 1:30 a.m. at The Rocks bar on Kentucky Street.

Police, however, say the crowd became unruly and threatening. A Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant said Petaluma officers are investigating the incident with the patrol car as a possible intentional act of a man throwing himself at the vehicle.

The emotionally charged scene was captured by cell phone video cameras and posted on YouTube, bringing the promise of more scrutiny to the near-melee that began with a night of DJ music, drink and socializing.

“I’ve been to protests against wars, been in an intense riot situations in San Francisco . . . I’ve never seen anything like it coming from police officers,” said Anthony Pinatelli, who was working at the club helping produce the music.

“It was completely uncalled for,” said patron Julie Piccinini of Sebastopol. “I’ve never seen anything in my life like I saw last night. It didn’t even feel like we were in Sonoma County.”

But Dave Thurston, one of four owners of the bar, said police and his security crew behaved appropriately and that the crowd repeatedly antagonized them. “I almost felt like they wanted a dramatic scene,” he said of the crowd.

Thurston, who was outside when the ruckus took place, said, “I did not see any type of brutality or excessive force — in anything that I saw.”

Police on Tuesday said the show of force was necessary as officers entered a crowd of people, many of whom they believed to be drunk and threatening.

“Originally, we had only eight officers there with at least 100 people. So I don’t think our response was excessive,” Petaluma Police Lt. Tim Lyons said.

“Once our officers are trying to effect an arrest and they are surrounded by people trying to interfere, that’s when we called for assistance and requested outside agencies to come help us out.”

Twenty officers from Cotati, Rohnert Park, the CHP and sheriff’s office soon arrived at the scene.

The trouble apparently started between bar patron Timothy Traylor, 22, of Sebastopol and bar security staff members, who told police Traylor had climbed onto sound equipment and then punched a bouncer when they tried to oust him.

Pinatelli, who was working on the sound equipment, said Traylor had been dancing and got onto a speaker stand to dance. Bouncers pulled him off and held Traylor so tight he couldn’t breathe, causing him to thrash and struggle, Pinatelli said.

Bouncers then hustled the young man outside, followed by some of the man’s friends who were upset at what was happening, witnesses said.

At least one security employee pulled a Taser stun gun and turned it on, threatening the crowd, Pinatelli said.

“He was waving a Taser at all of us,” he said.

Police officers heard the sound of Tasers being used by bar staff, said Lyons, the Petaluma lieutenant. While some in the crowd said they thought the Tasers were used on people, police weren’t so sure.

“I think they had the Tasers go off for the noise of it, to try to deter them,” Lyons said.

As officers took Traylor into custody, his friends became upset at what they said was unnecessarily rough treatment of the young man.

“All of our friends got worked up,” Pinatelli said.

Friends in the crowd said Kathleen “Kat” Zanoline ran up to protest the action. Lyons said Zanoline, 22, tried to physically intervene and was told repeatedly to back away but refused.

Pinatelli disagreed. “She was just asking ‘what are you doing?’ They really roughed her up, slammed her into the car, threw her on the ground and put a knee into her back,” Pinatelli said.

She was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor resisting arrest. Traylor was arrested on suspicion of battery, resisting arrest and possessing a small amount of methamphetamine.

Patrol cars blocked the downtown streets as officers displayed batons, Tasers and pepper spray canisters and attempted to get the crowd to disperse.

Not everyone saw the police action as overbearing.

“There was a lot of posturing, a lot of guys cursing at police,” said Juan Curiel, a Napa resident who was at the bar.

He called some in the crowd “absolutely threatening to the officers.”

“It seemed like (police) were a little flustered, a little panicked. I don’t believe they were expecting the response from bar patrons they got,” Curiel said.

Officers formed a line and moved toward Western Avenue to force people to clear out. Some people were physically moved because they wouldn’t leave, Lyons said.

Nolan Moore, 23, of Sebastopol said he was leaving the scene when he was struck by a deputy’s patrol car that was backing up.

Petaluma police and a sheriff’s official said Deputy Scott Singleton had the emergency lights flashing on his car on Washington Street near Kentucky Street when he first passed through the intersection. The deputy told officials he’d then put the car into reverse, going about 1 mph, when the pedestrian walked into his path.

Moore, interviewed Tuesday, said he had started to cross Washington Street with the walk light when a patrol car with no siren or flashing lights passed him against a red light.

He said he turned not realizing the patrol car had started to back up. Pinatelli, Piccinini and others said Moore was thrown as far as 10 feet by the impact.

Sheriff’s Lt. Steve Brown said Singleton reported he saw no one when he passed through the crosswalk and saw no one when he reversed. “He heard a big slam and he went out and saw the guy lying in the street,” Brown said.

Singleton said in his report: “It appeared the subject had run into my car, striking the car and falling to the ground to make it appear I had struck him.”

Brown said the sheriff’s office has no plans to investigate the incident further. Petaluma police are investigating, Lyons said.

“They’re not calling it a vehicle accident — they’re investigating it as an intentional act on the part of the pedestrian,” Brown said.

Moore was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and released.

A Petaluma police officer bitten by a police dog was treated and released from Petaluma Valley Hospital. He was not identified.

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