FAIRFIELD (CBS SF) -- The Fairfield Police Department arrested nine people at a city council meeting Tuesday evening after they forced the council to recess by protesting the department's hiring of an officer involved in a fatal shooting in 2012.
In a statement, Fairfield police said the protesters "willfully and without authority" disrupted the meeting to the point it could not continue rather than express their concerns during the council"s public comment section of its agenda.
Members of the council were escorted from the council chamber and the protesters failed to leave the room, according to Fairfield police.
"Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our society and is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution," the department said. "However, there are situations in which limits on a person's First Amendment rights are appropriate, especially where the speech in question unlawfully disturbs or breaks up an assembly or meeting, such as a lawful council meeting."
The nine protesters were arrested on suspicion of disturbing a public meeting, according to police. Doing so is considered a misdemeanor under the California Penal Code.
Fairfield Police Chief Deanna Cantrell also penned an open letter regarding the department's hiring and continued employment of Dustin Joseph, one of two officers involved in the fatal shooting of Vallejo resident Mario Romero, 23, in the early morning hours of Sept. 2, 2012.
An investigation by the Solano County District Attorney's Office concluded that Joseph and Sean Kenney, the other officer involved in the shooting, acted in self-defense.
Romero was shot and killed when he got out of his car and the two officers believed he was reaching for a gun, which turned out to be a non-lethal pellet gun.
Cantrell defended the department"s hiring process as "robust" and in line with state standards for law enforcement departments.
She also noted that Joseph"s potential involvement in Vallejo police officers bending their badges to signify fatal shootings was not known when he was hired in 2018.
The Vallejo Police Department has launched an independent, third-party investigation into the badge bending practice. The investigation was ongoing.
"I understand this is concerning to the community," Cantrell said in the letter, "and I want you to know it is equally concerning to me."
Joseph is not working the streets as an officer at this time, Cantrell said.
Those arrested Tuesday night included:
- Elizabeth Stetson, 23;
- Adrienne Thomas, 20;
- Crystal Ramirez, 24;
- Jimarielle Bowie, 23;
- Andres Rivera-Cruz, 23;
- Dennis Green, 35;
- Kameron Holzendorf, 27;
- Jace Sears, 18;
- and a 17-year-old minor.
All arrestees are Fairfield residents with the exception of Rivera-Cruz, who is a resident of Suisun City.
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