A sometimes loud crowd reaction this past week to a legislative hearing has led to the banning of a Hispanic civil rights leader from the Senate - and his arrest Thursday after he went to see his legislator.
Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, confirmed Friday he told the Senate sergeant at arms to bar the leader of a group that was being "rowdy" while watching a committee hearing on a TV monitor in an overflow room. But Pearce said he did not learn until later that the person he banned was Reza.
Reza was arrested Thursday when he went to meet with Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix. When Reza refused to leave - even after Gallardo told police Reza was there to see him - he was charged with trespass.
Attorney Stephen Montoya said he is weighing legal action against Pearce and the Senate. He said even assuming Reza was the leader of the group that cheered and clapped during Tuesday's hearing, there is no legal right to permanently bar him from the government building.
"You can't ban someone because he's allegedly the leader of a disruptive group," Montoya said.
"People have a right to come in," Pearce said. "If they're respectful, they behave, we have no problem with that. But you can't disrupt the place."
And if people are told they can't come back, "that's the way it is," Pearce said. "We're not going to take it anymore when it comes to that."
Pearce also told Capitol Media Services he is weighing whether to ban bullhorns and other amplifiers that have become commonplace at rallies on the lawn.
"We're just going to make it more respectful down there," he said. "They have a right to protest, bring signs and all that. But I'm not going to tolerate where they're loud and rude, disrupt other press conferences, disrupt other people."
That, however, may have only limited effect: A spokesman for House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, who controls the northern half of the lawn, said he would not impose such a limit.
Reza was one of more than 300 people who showed up Tuesday night as the Senate Appropriations Committee was set to hear several bills aimed at illegal immigration. With the actual hearing in a small room, virtually all observers had to watch a closed-circuit TV feed in another room.
Some in the audience were clapping and cheering.
Pearce said Joe Kubacki, the Senate's sergeant at arms, approached Reza as the presumed leader and told him he needed to quiet down the crowd. Reza refused.
"I basically said, ‘I can't tell them to stop applauding. If you want them to stop applauding, you have to tell them yourself,'" Reza said.
No one was ejected at that time. But Pearce said he told Kubacki to tell the leader - Pearce said he did not know who that was - he would not be allowed back into the Senate.
Reza said there was no such warning.
On Thursday, Reza went to the Senate to meet with Gallardo. Reza said police told him he was not allowed in the building, even though there were no meetings taking place.
When Reza refused to leave, he was arrested for trespass, as was a companion who police charged with disorderly conduct and aggravated assault.
Pearce said there is no "blacklist" of people who are banned - beyond Reza. But Montoya said the order, even if directed only at Reza, is illegal.
He said there probably are times when certain people, because of past or current behavior or because they pose a real threat, should not be allowed in public buildings.
"But there has to be some type of process," Montoya said. "It has to be consistent with free speech requirements."
More troubling, Montoya said, is that this seems to be a permanent ban.
"If you allegedly disrupt one hearing, can they prevent you from entering the building to meet your elected representative?" he asked.
In a prepared statement issued hours after he spoke with Capitol Media Services, Pearce invoked the memory of last month's shooting in Tucson that killed six and left 13 others injured as justification for using what he said is his constitutional power to control the Senate building.
"It is my duty to protect our members, staff and visiting public, and provide a safe, secure environment," the statement reads. "In the future, we will be much more vigilant over misconduct by anyone visiting this building."