Under the threat of a federal lawsuit, Marin County officials reversed themselves and issued a film permit yesterday that will allow a deadly 1970 shootout to be reenacted at the Marin Civic Center today and tomorrow.
"I'm very disappointed," said Sheriff Robert Doyle, who had expressed outrage about the planned filming and had written to the county administrator seeking to block filming outside the Civic Center.
County officials initially gave tentative approval to film scenes at the Civic Center for "Black August," a movie about prison revolutionary George Jackson.
County Administrator Mark Riesenfeld on Monday said the county would not allow depiction of the use of weapons to be filmed, after Doyle raised concerns about security weaknesses being exposed to those who might consider carrying out future violent acts at the seat of county government.
Marin Superior Court judges had denied filmmakers use of the court floor in the Civic Center's Hall of Justice. That's where a courtroom kidnapping preceded the shootout in which a judge and three of the kidnappers were killed 33 years ago. That restriction still stands.
But Doyle and others in the law enforcement community contended that it was inappropriate to reenact the infamous part of Marin County history at the scene of the crime, particularly in a production that referred to the incidents as a "liberation attempt."
"It appears as if there was a flip-flop by the county administrator," Doyle said. "The filmmakers threatened to sue the county and I guess that's the way you get them to back down."
Doyle said his understanding from Riesenfeld earlier this week was that County Counsel Patrick Faulkner concluded the county could bar use of weapons during filming. Movie officials said there would be no point in filming at the Civic Center if they could not use the court floor or reenact the shootout.
"Based on advice from counsel, we reconsidered our position and opted not to pursue the restriction on the use of weapons," said Riesenfeld, who declined yesterday to answer further questions about the decision.
However, "Black August" producer Tcinque J. Sampson said he had informed county officials of his intention to file a federal injunction claiming denial of due process rights if the county did not reverse its position. He said he was informed of the change of opinion Wednesday, the day before his deadline, and physically obtained the film permit yesterday.
George Jackson was not at Marin Superior Court on Aug. 7, 1970, when his 17-year-old brother, Jonathan, orchestrated a courtroom takeover and kidnapping as part of a plot to trade hostages for the freedom of the elder Jackson, who was an inmate at San Quentin State Prison.
Jonathan Jackson passed guns to a prison inmate who was on trial and two inmate witnesses. The kidnappers and hostages made it safely to a waiting van but gunfire ensued in which Judge Harold Haley, Jonathan Jackson and two of the inmates were killed under the Civic Center's center archway.
The sheriff said his deputies had originally been lined up to provide security during filming before the controversy began, but were told that they would be not be needed during this weekend's filming. San Rafael police will provide traffic control and county maintenance workers will be used to return the filming area to normal afterward.
Officials with the "Black August" production said they wanted to use the actual location of the shootout to lend reality to the imagery and said they could not reproduce the unique architecture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Sampson said he was prepared to fight Riesenfeld's decision in court when the permit process was amended to include the additional restriction on using simulated weapons.
"We had met all the requirements they had to allow us to film and at the 11th hour they add this 13th condition that no one else has had to comply with," Sampson said. "That's a violation of due process and when they did that I knew we had a federal case. I guess they thought we were going to curl up and go away, but that wasn't going to happen."
Sampson said Jonathan Jackson Jr. will be on the set tomorrow to observe filming. An author in his own right, Jackson has written the forward to the new edition of his uncle George Jackson's book, "Soledad Brother."
The Oakland-based independent movie production is being partially financed by JRider Entertainment, which is owned by former NBA player Isaiah "JR" Rider. Jackson is portrayed in the movie by actor Gary Dourdan, who plays Warrick Brown on the CBS crime drama "CSI."
©2003 Marin Independent Journal