Alaska State Fair Addresses Protester's Arrest
The Alaska State Fair has completed a review of the actions taken last Thursday when Sidney Hill was arrested after he caused a disturbance on the fairgrounds while carrying a large political sign.
Original article posted Sept. 3, 2010
PALMER - The Alaska State Fair has completed a review of the actions taken last Thursday, August 26, when Sidney Hill was arrested after he caused a disturbance on the fairgrounds while carrying a large political sign. An edited video of Hill's protest and subsequent arrest was posted on YouTube. Hill has since been charged with three misdemeanor crimes.
"Over the weekend, our management team met with representatives of Starplex, the Alaska State Fair's contract vendor for security, as well as the Palmer Police Department to learn the facts of this incident," said Dean Phipps, marketing director for the Alaska State Fair. "It's important that we review current policy, and make sure that we are doing everything we can to protect the safety of everyone attending the Fair."
The Alaska State Fair, a nonprofit corporation, has explained from the beginning that the fairgrounds are private property, and that it has the right to regulate conduct across the property including solicitation, advertising, display of signs, materials distribution or other related activities. That policy is detailed in the Vendor Handbook which is available for review on the Fair's website. Anyone refusing to comply with the Fair's policy is asked to leave the property, and Phipps says the incident on Thursday fell within this policy.
The Fair also has done further investigation to determine how Hill got onto the fairgrounds with his large sign and with a loaded handgun in his pocket. Security is posted at every entrance to the Fair, but no one observed Hill entering the fairgrounds with his sign. However, it is not unusual for Fair vendors to exercise free speech at their designated booth, or to carry signage and materials from their cars to their booths, so someone entering the fairgrounds with a banner like Hill's, in itself might not raise suspicion.
Fair management has since learned that a vendor assistant, employed by the Alaska State Fair, did stop Hill just after he entered the Purple Gate, when she saw him blocking the walkway and impeding fairgoers ability to walk by holding his large sign across the walkway. When she questioned Hill as to his intentions, he yelled and called her names and refused to stop or change his behavior, so she called security.
Hill's actions at that time warranted his removal from the fairgrounds. As to how Hill managed to enter the fairgrounds with a handgun - entrances to the fairgrounds are posted with signs that say firearms are not allowed. Fair security do not conduct backpack or purse searches as fairgoers enter the property. They can and do conduct searches whenever an individual's actions warrant a search, and they do advise anyone carrying a gun that they cannot bring it into the fairgrounds. Those entering the Fair are not wanded or searched specifically for guns, so it is possible to bring a gun onto the property, if it's concealed.
Starplex management and the Palmer Police force have reviewed the actions taken by two security guards, the off-duty Alaska State Trooper who voluntarily assisted with Hill's encounter, and arrest.
"We determined that the amount of force used by our security personnel was warranted," said Starplex Regional Manager Dan Petersen. According to Petersen, Hill was not just standing there peacefully protesting, he was waving his sign, shouting and interfering with the show taking place at the Plaza. As soon as the security guards attempted to remove him from the property, Hill resisted and wrapped his legs around the guard. As he was brought under control, a handgun became visible in Hill's pocket. The gun raised the situation to a different level, even though it's not apparent in the video that a gun was involved.
Starplex security personnel are advised to defer to the Director of Operations or the Regional Manager before making a decision to detain or remove anyone on the fairgrounds. In Thursday's incident, Petersen was appropriately notified of the Hill encounter, and he is the person who ultimately took the cocked and loaded gun out of Hill's pocket. Director of Operations Randy Scott was one of the two security guards negotiating with Hill during the incident, and he made the determination that Hill was being disruptive and should be escorted off the grounds.
Once Hill was under fair security's control, fair security called the Palmer Police. Hill was turned over to the Palmer Police upon their arrival at the fair. The Palmer Police then transported Hill to Mat-Su Pre-Trial Holding Facility where he was remanded into custody to await arraignment before a magistrate. Hill has subsequently been charged with three misdemeanors. Hill was already facing charges of harassment likely to provoke violence from an unrelated incident on August 19.
"We want to ensure fairgoers that our number one priority is to allow anyone who comes to the Alaska State Fair to freely and safely enjoy their Fair experience," said Phipps. "We encourage freedom of speech that does not interrupt or disturb others and follows the guidelines in our Vendor Handbook. However, when individuals refuse to follow the Fair's guidelines, we will enforce our right to remove them, or request that Palmer Police intervene."