Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Judge Grants Restraining Order Against Black Lives Matter Protester Accused of Threatening L.A. Police Commissioner
Matt Johnson

The city of Los Angeles is seeking a restraining order to protect Matt Johnson, president of the L.A. Police Commission, against a protester affiliated with Black Lives Matter. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Cindy Chang
Los Angeles

A judge Wednesday granted a restraining order against a Black Lives Matter activist who is accused of threatening the president of the Los Angeles Police Commission and appearing at his home and law office.

The city had sought the order against Trevor Ferguson, who, according to court declarations, had targeted commission President Matt Johnson at public meetings and referenced Johnson’s children.

Ferguson has denied the charges.

But Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Carol Boas Goodson granted the restraining order, saying that “any parent would be concerned” by Ferguson’s mentioning Johnson’s son at a Police Commission meeting and then visiting Johnson’s home.

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After more than an hour of testimony from Johnson, Ferguson and others, Goodson concluded that Ferguson’s intent was not to protest but to “incite fear.” The restraining order requires Ferguson to stay away from Johnson and his family. Ferguson can continue to speak at Police Commission meetings but must keep a five-yard distance from Johnson.

A temporary order with the same restrictions has been in effect since Dec. 20.

Following the hearing, Johnson said that he supports the 1st Amendment, but that Ferguson had gone too far.

“The right to protest has led to tremendous gains for people who look like myself and Mr. Ferguson,” Johnson said. Both Johnson and Ferguson are black. “It’s something I deeply respect. But there is a line, and for me, that line is when you threaten the safety of my family. Like any father, I’m not going to apologize for taking steps to protect the safety of my family.”

Ferguson’s attorney, Nana Gyamfi, said Johnson’s fear of Ferguson was based on race.

“It’s ridiculous that he used a method and procedure people use to protect themselves from actual violence ... to protect himself from embarrassment,” she said.

Gyamfi said that the restraining order’s impact goes beyond Ferguson and could erode 1st Amendment rights for other protesters.

“By the time you look up, your rights have been gutted,” she said. Ferguson likely will appeal the decision, she added.

After the hearing, Ferguson would say only, “Great is Allah,” in response to questions.

Ferguson is part of a group that often disrupts the Police Commission’s weekly meetings by chanting and speaking out of turn. Members contend their aim is to express outrage at Los Angeles Police Department shootings of black and Latino people.

Johnson is one of two African American police commissioners. At meetings, Ferguson and others have called Johnson a “houseboy” — a derogatory term for a black person who is in league with whites — amid demands that LAPD Chief Charlie Beck resign and the entire department be disbanded.

In a court declaration, Johnson alleged that Ferguson made a “gratuitous reference to his children” at a November Police Commission meeting and stated at another meeting that Johnson should be scared of him.

At various meetings, Ferguson has mouthed threats to Johnson, including that he would beat up Johnson and kill him, according to the declaration. Because the threats were not spoken aloud, there is no recording of them, the declaration said.

In an interview with The Times in December, Ferguson, 35, defended his actions as lawful protesting, saying he has never crossed the line from insults to threats. He has never mouthed anything at Johnson, he said.

“To say I threatened him with physical harm is a gross overstatement and out of proportion,” said Ferguson, a rap artist and music producer who is also known as Trevor Gerard.

The five police commissioners, who volunteer their time, provide civilian oversight of the LAPD, setting policies, recommending reforms and reviewing incidents when officers use force against civilians — including fatal shootings.

Johnson is the managing partner of entertainment law firm Ziffren Brittenham, where he negotiates contracts for celebrities, producers and professional athletes, such as Serena Williams and Oprah Winfrey. He is the father of four children ages 4 to 20.

He has advocated for de-escalation techniques that would help reduce the number of LAPD shootings, but that has not exempted him from angry verbal attacks from the activists, who complain he has not done enough.

According to Johnson’s court declaration, the reference to his children occurred at a Police Commission meeting Nov. 1.

In an official audio recording of the meeting, Ferguson stated that Johnson has four children, one of whom is a boy. Ferguson then drew a connection between Johnson’s son and African American victims of police violence, saying he hoped Johnson would not become a grieving parent.

“You have not only chosen the side of men like Charlie Beck and [Mayor] Eric Garcetti, you have chosen to be their errand boy,” Ferguson continued. “So run, boy, and tell your masters: The city is ours now.”

Johnson’s declaration cited another incident from the Dec. 13 commission meeting. Ferguson made statements during public comment and from the audience that Johnson should feel scared of him and suggesting that the two men meet outside of a board meeting, the declaration said.

On the official audio recording of the meeting, Ferguson spoke about crime and the community before stating: “Ultimately, I know you guys don’t care — and I see the houseboy Matt Johnson over on his phone or whatever, like this.”

Ferguson then referenced human rights abuses and the lawlessness that might result from “zero accountability.”

“When 4 million people realize how [messed up] you are, you will not be able to stop that tide,” he said. “And it’s coming. And it’s coming for all of you.”

On Dec. 16, the declaration said, Ferguson went to Johnson’s law firm in Century City with other protesters. He managed to get past the receptionist and into the elevator, which is operated with key cards, arriving at Johnson’s 10th-floor office and “angrily demanding to speak to me,” the declaration said.

Johnson was not there, but one of his law partners made Ferguson leave.

Two days later, Ferguson went to Johnson’s Sherman Oaks home in the late afternoon, the declaration said. Johnson’s wife and children were home, and Ferguson was detained by police.

Ferguson told The Times in December that he visited Johnson’s office and home with a group of people who were protesting peacefully.

The activists sought out Johnson on his home turf because speaking at Police Commission meetings, which are held at LAPD headquarters, no longer was enough, Ferguson said.

“We felt the people on the board were allowed to be complicit in violence, basically to be a rubber-stamping body,” Ferguson said. “It was time to engage them in other spaces, where the playing field was more even.”

Twitter: @cindychangLA

Times staff writer Kate Mather contributed to this report.

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