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Protesters charge relay route tactics abuse their rights

SHARE Protesters charge relay route tactics abuse their rights

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee, local police agencies and rodeo supporters are harassing animal rights activists protesting the 2002 Olympic Torch Relay, activists said Friday.

The harassment, the activists' attorney said, could constitute a First Amendment violation and warrant civil or criminal action against SLOC.

SLOC President Mitt Romney Friday responded to the criticism saying that the animal rights activists are disrupting the relay by holding signs and shouting during his speeches.

The activists, who are protesting a planned Olympic rodeo in Farmington, have been following the Olympic torch as it winds across the United States en route to Salt Lake City. Along the way, however, they say they have been detained by police in Albuquerque, been cut off by SLOC vehicles and, in San Luis Obispo, Calif., pelted by beer bottles from students at California Polytechnic State University.

"They were some rabid rodeo fans," said Colleen Gardner who was riding in the "Tiger Truck" when it was attacked by Cal-Poly students.

The Tiger Truck has been dogging the relay ever since Indianapolis. The vehicle is equipped with four big screen televisions that show footage of rodeo abuses.

But as the truck has followed the relay, activists said, they have been hampered. They said that in Albuquerque they were stopped for 45 minutes, and that in other cities SLOC vehicles have impeded their process by preventing them from keeping up with the relay.

Activists say an unidentified man in a SLOC vehicle was videotaped asking, "Does it make you feel good to make little kids cry, you pervert?"

The animal rights activists also say SLOC is persuading local police departments to help divert the Tiger Truck from the relay route.

"It's a surprising pattern when you're in five different cities and these same types of things are happening," said Brian Barnard, attorney for the Utah Animal Rights Coalition. "Someone has gone to these police departments and said 'do something about (the truck).' "

If UARC is able to prove a link between SLOC and the police actions, Barnard said, he would sue Olympic organizers or demand that they be charged criminally.

E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com