Are unruly teenagers - armed by the American Civil Liberties Union with a full knowledge of their civil rights - driving St. George citizens and adult vacationers away during Easter weekend?
Or are St. George police using intimidation to drive Utah teenagers away from St. George - and swelling city coffers in the process with a flurry of frivilous citations against the vacationing youth?It all depends on who you ask.
St. George officials believe the annual onslaught of teens is ruining Easter weekend for other vacationers, and they will form a task force to study the issue.
"It's the weekend of our arts show, a sacred Christian holiday, and adults and their families are the groups we want to cater to. But unsupervised teenagers are driving them away," said St. George Mayor Karl F. Brooks, who's spearheading the task force.
He said this year's batch of teenagers was more defiant and unruly than any previous crowd - a fact the city's police chief blamed on pamphlets the ACLU handed out to the youth informing them of their right not to be harassed by police.
Despite the fliers, some teenagers returned to Salt Lake City Monday with stories of harassment by St. George police similar to complaints the ACLU has received in years past.
Brian Barnard, attorney for the ACLU, received phone calls from three Salt Lake teenagers Tuesday afternoon complaining of frivilous police citations they didn't deserve but can't afford to fight.
One teenager told Barnard that a St. George police officer stopped him as he walked out of his motel room and accused him of drinking. The boy denied it, Barnard said.
The officer told the boy to blow in his face. According to Barnard, when the teen complied, the officer said, "You haven't been drinking recently but I know you've been drinking in the past so I'm going to give you a ticket." The officer cited the youth for public intoxication.
Barnard said the boy can either pay the ticket - which is somewhere to between $50 and $100 - or fight the ticket, which would require two trips to St. George.
"The cops know that by simply issuing a ticket, they've got someone. It's easier for an out-of-town kid to just pay the ticket," Barnard said. "He may very well be innocent, but he would have to go through a trial and that would require two more trips down to St. George."
A teenage girl told Barnard she said she was crossing the street in a crosswalk while traffic was stopped and a police officer cited her for "standing in the street."
She had stopped briefly in the crosswalk to speak to a girlfriend, Barnard said. The officer told her the brief stop warranted the citation, Barnard said.
Like the boy, the girl would have to drive twice from Salt Lake City to St. George to fight the citation, he said.
St. George Police Chief Jon Pollei said court matters - including arraignment scheduling - are out of his department's hands.
"Actions taken by officers during the spring break were the same as those taken any other time of year, and any arrests we make anytime, a person has the right to plead not guilty. The actions of the court has nothing to do with us," he said.
St. George police report that the number of spring-break citations jumped sharply this year, with 298 people arrested for alcohol-related offenses between Thursday and Sunday. But they blamed the increase on the ACLU fliers.
"I think it encourages kids not to respect authority," said Pollei, who said his officers found the young vacationers more apt to disregard officers' attempts to keep the peace.
"We've not had that problem here in the past," he said. "The crowd this year was a lot more unruly, more challenging. There was more hostility."
Possibly on both sides. Salt Lake youths told Barnard that St. George police were "belligerent" with them, Barnard said.
"None of us want to deny anyone their rights, but it's difficult in a crowd of 10,000 teenagers to be sure that everyone can be given their rights," Brooks said.
Despite the verbal slings, the ACLU considers its flier campaign a success. "It is important to let the police know that we don't consider them to be occupying forces," said Michelle Parish, director of the Utah ACLU chapter. "They are there to serve the public. It is the responsibility of the public to monitor police departments."