|Maverick Radio Host Alleges Harassment by Sheriff
By CATHY REDFERN Sentinel STAFF WRITER
APTOS An Aptos radio show host critical of Sheriff Mark Tracy has filed a federal lawsuit against the sheriff and the county claiming several violations of his civil rights, including an alleged threat to withhold news from the station if they didn't quell the host's negative comments.
In a suit filed Thursday in San Jose, Richard Quigley claims Tracy sent a deputy to KSCO radio station in Santa Cruz Wednesday to "threaten the station with sanctions" if they did not terminate his show. The station suspended the show, "The U.S. Freedom Fighter Forum," until the suit is resolved. The station had aired the show since February.
The suit seeks unspecified damages, including legal fees and costs, and an injunction to stop further violations.
Quigley is a self-proclaimed freedom fighter and political activist who ran against Tracy in 1994 and is perhaps best known locally for his stand against the state's motorcycle helmet law, and his collection of citations for insisting on wearing a baseball cap instead of a helmet. Tall and lean with a long, gray beard, Quigley, 59, is prone to wearing black leather, riding Harleys and speaking with a blunt eloquence about threats to his freedom "fear is the greatest oppressor," he says.
A former marketing director and musical prodigy, quests for liberation have made him well-known to local cops, prosecutors and courthouse staff members. He ran as a Libertarian candidate for Congress in 1993.
"The most important reason for the First Amendment is to prevent the government from stifling our voice of criticism of their behavior," Quigley said. "It's a sad story. I should have seen it coming."
The station refused comment. Quigley said he was not paid, just allowed air time, and that he has no hard feelings toward station management. But he does have hard feelings toward Tracy and some deputies, though he believes most to be "uncommon in their decency."
But others, the suit alleges, have filed phony reports alleging he has violated laws public drunkenness and weapons and other laws. It also alleges Tracy has a "secret internal affairs file" on him.
His attorney, Kate Wells, said harassment and intimidation by some deputies started soon after Quigley's run for sheriff, culminating in the threat over his program, violating his First Amendment right to free speech and his 14th Amendment right to due process and protection from undue police action.
"It's been a war waged against him," Wells said. "I think this is one of the best First Amendment cases I've ever seen. ... It's a microcosm of what is happening all over with suppression of news. People in power have the power to say if you do that, we won't give you any information."
Quigley's run-ins with law enforcement have been fodder for his show. His stories include one in which he alleges that two deputies pulled over his girlfriend on Trout Gulch Road one night, "beating her up and taking her to jail."
She was later "exonerated" and got a small settlement, he said.
Quigley said he was prepared to let it all go, "like living with a bad neighbor," until the deputy's visit, a move he called "despicable."
"I'm no saint, that's true," he said. "But whatever I've done is nothing like my reputation as defined by the Sheriff's Office. One thing I'd like when all this is over is that my reputation on paper in that county building is consistent with the life I've lived in this county.
"A man has a right to that."
The county has not been served with the lawsuit and could not comment on it, a spokeswoman said. Tracy likewise declined comment.