I don’t even know what to do with this except report it and tell you some background. Because it’s just strange, all around.
Short story: Sup. Scott Wiener’s pressing criminal charges against a blogger who tried to take a photo of him peeing in the City Hall men’s room.
Michael Petrelis, the mad-man blogger who once called me for several days straight in the middle of the night to scream “your wife has syphillis!” into the phone, was at City Hall Oct. 26 with gay Honduran activist Erick Martinez. At some point, he decided to go into the public restroom on the second floor -- and noticed that Sup. Scott Wiener was in there, using the urinal.
Petrelis has been fighting with Wiener over a lot of issues, including the nudity ban and Wiener’s efforts to remove benches from the plaza at 18th and Castro, and on the issues, he’s been right. He has a history of demanding accountability from the LGBT power structure, sometimes in ways that are not exactly polite -- but he’s still a valuable gadfly, and I’ve gotten over the insanity of the late-night calls (more on that below).
But in this case, Wiener was just trying to take a piss -- and Petrelis lifted his phone and tried to take a picture. Wiener’s wiener, I guess. Supervisor taking a leak. I don’t know exactly what he was going after, but the phone didn’t work right and he couldn’t get the photo until Wiener had buttoned up his pants and moved over to the sink, where he was going to brush his teeth.
Instead, he saw Petrelis and picked up the brush and toothpaste and left -- but not before the intrepid blogger snapped a pic, which wound up on the Petrelis Files blog. It’s not a terribly attractive or terribly scandalous photo; guy with a toothbrush. Whatever.
But Wiener was, well, pissed -- and I don’t blame him. We were always taught that you can take journalistic photos without the subject’s permission in a place where people have no expectation of privacy; if there’s any place in the world where a reasonable person would expect privacy, the bathroom would seem to quality.
Wiener called the cops -- or in this case, the Sheriff’s Office, since that’s who patrols City Hall.
Wiener’s been complaining (for no reason, really) about the way the deputy sheriffs have responded to the protests over his nudity ban (come on -- the nudists really aren’t a threat to anyone). But he asked for an investigation, filed a statement, and got the department to take it seriously enough to bring the matter to the district attorney for possible prosecution.
And the DA has filed charges.
Petrelis surrendered and was booked Nov. 29 on suspicion of violating Penal Code Section 647 (j) 1, which is typically used to prosecute peeping Toms: “Any person who looks through a hole or opening, into, or otherwise views, by means of any instrumentality, including, but not limited to, a periscope, telescope, binoculars, camera, motion picture camera, camcorder, or mobile phone, the interior of a bedroom, bathroom, changing room, fitting room, dressing room, or tanning booth, or the interior of any other area in which the occupant has a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the intent to invade the privacy of a person or persons inside.”
Bail was initially set at $25,000, which is astonishingly high for this level of crime, but Petrelis and his lawyer, Derek St. Pierre, got it reduced and Petrelis was cited and released on his own recognizance.
Wiener’s not talking; his office sent over a statement detailing the facts of the case and stating that Petrelis ... has political disagreements with me, has a history of inappropriate and harassing behavior.” Both of those facts are undeniably true.
St. Pierre, though, thinks this is a huge waste of criminal justice resources. “I’m surprised that the D.A.’s Office decided to charge this case,” he told me. “I don’t see this as illegal conduct.”
In fact, he said, “the most concerning part of the case is that Wiener references that face that they have political disagreements. That suggests to me that political differences are driving the supervisor’s concerns.”
Maybe -- or maybe he thinks his privacy really was invaded, and that Petrelis needs to be held accountable, too. As I said, I can’t blame him; Petrelis was acting like a total asshole. You can fight with Wiener, as I often do, and you can make speeches and denounce and interrupt meetings at City Hall and do all manner of impolite protests, but Jesus -- the guy deserves the right to take a pee in peace.
That said, I have to wonder: Is this really worth turning into a criminal case? Did Wiener really have to take it that far? Petrelis, who loves attention, isn’t going to back down. “We will be fighting this case,” St. Pierre told me, starting with an arraignment hearing Dec. 5, at which I can pretty much guarantee the plea will be “not guilty.”
So we might have a full-blown trial here, and (as a fan of restorative justice) I’m not so sure that the criminal courts are the best way to resolve this. You’d think they could go to Community Boards. Wiener could agree to personally lower the rainbow flag to half-staff every now and then and Petrelis could agree to clean pigeon shit off some newsracks. Or something.
Because I don’t imagine that even Wiener wants to take the stand in a public trial and face cross-examination by Petrelis. The only winners at that spectacle would be the reporters.
PS: I don’t even remember exactly why Petrelis started the late-night calls to my home phone; it was around the same time he was calling lots of other people. I think he was mad that the Guardian ran (or didn’t run) some kind of ad around the doctor who was in charge of STD control at the Department of Public Health. I think there was some report about syphillis among gay men in SF that Petrelis didn’t like. I just remember that my son was two years old and sick and we were having a hell of time getting him to sleep and just when he would finally nod off the phone would ring and Petrelis would yell at me about syphillis. I’d hang up and he’d call back ten seconds later and yell again. I finally paid the phone company $2 a month to block his calls.
I was not among those who sought a restraining order or went to the police; that’s not my style. I was furious, but I knew it would pass, and eventually it did.
So will this, Scott.