NEWARK -- A vocal critic of City Hall arrested in a dispute over seating at last month's State of the City address was held for 32 hours in Santa Rita Jail in Dublin before prosecutors declined to file charges.
John Henneberry, known for his blistering critiques at council meetings, said the prosecutor's decision shows that his arrest might be political payback for being a thorn in the city's side. "The whole thing was wrong for a number of reasons," he said. "I was just participating in government. I was not breaking the law."
Henneberry, 45, learned of the decision to drop the case Wednesday when he arrived at the Fremont Hall of Justice for his arraignment. The District Attorney's Office "declined to prosecute based on a review of all reports and evidence," spokeswoman Teresa Drenick said.
The incident occurred April 18, as Henneberry sat in the gallery section of a ballroom at the Hilton hotel in Newark, shortly before Mayor Alan Nagy was to deliver the State of the City address.
The event flier, created by the Newark Chamber of Commerce, states that gallery seating would be open at no charge after 12:20 p.m., which is when Henneberry said he sat there. Within minutes, though, chamber officials asked him to leave. He refused, so police removed him, Henneberry said.
"The flier also says that reservations are required," Newark police Cmdr. Mike Carroll said. "He went in without following the procedure to go in."
Henneberry said he asked City Attorney David Benoun to come to the gallery section and rule on the dispute. Benoun agreed with police, who marched Henneberry out of the hotel with his hands behind his back. He was cuffed outside.
Benoun declined to comment Friday on the arrest or the DA's decision.
Henneberry was taken to the Fremont city jail, where he said officers told him they would cite and release him. A short time later, he said he was taken to the Dublin jail.
"The California code says that when you are arrested on a nonviolent misdemeanor, you are supposed to be cited and released," said Yolanda Huang, Henneberry's attorney. "There are a number of irregularities in terms of how Newark police handled this."
Carroll said Henneberry went to Santa Rita Jail because one officer was booking multiple arrestees, including one going to Santa Rita, so the officer took the entire group to the Dublin jail.
Newark police do that so that other officers can patrol the streets rather than use limited resources to conduct bookings at multiple locations. "It was for efficiency and cost-effective reasons," Carroll said. "Fremont jail became not an option when the other person needed to go to Santa Rita."
Alameda County Sheriff's Office deputies booked Henneberry at the Dublin jail at 4:24 p.m. April 18 and held him there until 9:05 p.m. the following day, said Sgt. J.D. Nelson, a Sheriff's Office spokesman. "Our records staff discovered the offense was citable and cited him out on Friday (April 19) instead of keeping him over the weekend," he said.
Huang declined to say whether she is considering filing a lawsuit over the incident. "I would say it is our hope that the people who have the authority to arrest and house people would comply with California statutes," she said.
Thursday night, Henneberry was back at a Newark City Council meeting, where he has repeatedly appeared to urge the reduction of city salaries, which he says are too high, and spend the savings on keeping Newark's library open seven days a week. (It's closed Sundays and Mondays.)
Henneberry frequently has asked to put his ideas on the meeting agenda so they can be discussed. But Nagy always has declined, and tension between Henneberry and the council has risen. City leaders have said that the city pays employees what the market bears. Henneberry argues that all government sector prices are set by legislative action. "Voters should have final say in setting city employee salaries," he said. "There's no such thing as market price when it comes to city salaries."
Both Nagy and City Manager John Becker declined to comment for this story.
At some meetings, Henneberry has taken a hostile approach. Last July, when Nagy spoke in favor of purchasing an armored police vehicle, Henneberry yelled, "You're a twisted freak, Nagy! We don't need your war machine!"
A police officer who stood near Henneberry started inching closer to him, but police say he wasn't there to watch Henneberry. "We've asked an officer to go to the public meetings because there are Newark city employees who are concerned for their safety, not specific to Mr. Henneberry, but just in general," Carroll said.
Councilman Bob Marshall said he agrees with Henneberry about "getting a hold of government employee salaries and retirement liability." Marshall added: "But he takes that issue and goes crazy with it. We're not opposed (to the issue), but his methodology is flawed."
Henneberry, meanwhile, said he will keep attending council meetings to urge Newark to restore library hours and reduce city salaries. "I'm going to keep the pressure on Newark's City Council," he said.
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.