'Arrest' turns on Ideafarm
Spat over signs ends in jail for city's resident protestor
He may be extremely familiar with how his speech is protected by the First Amendment, but Wo'O Ideafarm, the man known for displaying provocative signs on the streets of Mountain View, appears to have a slightly more tenuous grasp on the rules governing citizen's arrests, a police spokeswoman said.
The local "location-less" man and self-styled public speaker was arrested Friday, Jan. 14, near the corner of Charleston Road and Independence Avenue on charges of battery and false imprisonment after he pushed a woman to the ground and held her there for about 10 minutes, said Liz Wylie, public information officer for the Mountain View Police Department.
Police received a call just after 4 p.m. reporting that Ideafarm had a woman pinned on the ground, according to Wylie. When police arrived, the woman was "hysterical" and Ideafarm told the authorities that he suspected the woman of vandalizing his property.
Earlier that day, Ideafarm had set up a sign reading "queers are perverts." After setting up the sign, he went away. When he returned, Wylie said, he found that the sign had been taken down and thrown into some nearby bushes, and that many of his other possessions had been strewn about.
Ideafarm reassembled his sign and again left — this time to use his laptop computer at a nearby Chipotle restaurant, Wylie said. While he was in Chipotle he told police that he saw a woman approach his sign and look at it.
Suspecting that she was the same person who had torn his sign down and scattered his belongings earlier in the day, he rushed out of the restaurant and told the woman that he was placing her under citizen's arrest, Wylie said. When she attempted to leave he restrained her.
He pushed her down and attempted to hold her on the ground, said Wylie. The woman managed to get up but Ideafarm pushed her down and held her again, and she began crying, witnesses told police. Some people attempted to persuade Ideafarm to get off of the woman, Wylie said, but he refused, so they called police.
"We did not accept his citizen's arrest," Wylie said. "There is nothing to indicate that she was the one who ripped up his sign."
California law allows for citizen's arrests, Wylie said, and there are even allowances for physically restraining someone in such an arrest. However, Ideafarm made a miscalculation when he laid his hands on the victim.
Wylie said that the charges Ideafarm now faces are likely the most serious he has yet faced in Mountain View. False imprisonment can be classified as either a felony or a misdemeanor and in Ideafarm's case it is currently classified as a felony, she said. The district attorney will decide how the case will ultimately be prosecuted, Wylie said.
"There are a lot of people who research law extensively and then they want to exert their right to all of those laws," Wylie said. "But they often don't understand all the nuances of those laws."
Ideafarm frequently carries a book on the First Amendment and has attempted to place others under citizen's arrest in the past.
He fervently defends his own right to free speech, even as he has been threatened for the messages that appear on his signs.
Those messages, he has said, are meant to get the people of Mountain View, and eventually the greater United States, to live "unselfishly" and in harmony with one another. "I want to connect people wholesomely," he has said.
He aims to accomplish this by stirring a debate within the community around topics such as gay rights and immigration.
Wylie stopped short of saying that local media outlets ought to stop covering Ideafarm, but made a point of saying that said she believes he feeds off of seeing his name in the papers. Ideafarm frequently sends the Voice e-mails — especially before he takes an action he believes will draw ire from the community and draw the attention of law enforcement. These e-mails, sometimes written in the third person, often read like a press release from a political organization.
While he awaited transport from the Mountain View Police Station to Santa Clara County's Main Jail in San Jose, Ideafarm used his one phone call to notify a reporter with the Palo Alto Daily News of his arrest.
"He very much enjoys the coverage," Wylie said.