Austin police arrest Santa for chalking nice Christmas wishes with kids
Police officers with the Texas Department of Public Safety arrested 36-year-old James Peterson on Friday afternoon at around 1:30 p.m. Peterson, adorned in a full-on Santa suit complete with a big white beard, was placed in cuffs and dragged away in front of a group of children after cops charged him with criminal mischief and evading arrest.Peterson was participating in an event in front of the Capitol along with members of the Occupy Austin movement at the time of the alleged crime. He had been asking children what their wishes for the world were — and then writing them on the sidewalk with chalk — when police handcuffed him and hauled him away.“Today I saw the jolly red elf at the Capitol, cheerfully requesting that children write their wishes for a better world in chalk on the sidewalk. Santa said his favorite word was ‘Community.’ Various children wrote words like ‘Peace,’ ‘Friendship,’ and ‘Grace,’” Occupy Austin’s Lainie Duro recalls in a statement released on Friday by the group.In video taken shortly before his arrest, Peterson, as Claus, is seen chatting with young kids and writing their wishes on the ground. Police ignored reports from eyewitnesses who admitted that both parents and children were also participating — and had video to prove it — but arrests were limited to only Santa and a single helper, identified only as “Corey Elf.”According to Occupy Austin, Elf was arrested after he used chalk to write “Free Santa” on the sidewalk while Saint Nick was in cuffs. He was also charged with criminal mischief.Video footage of the arrest, executed in front of a group of small children and at one point a passing school bus, show Public Safety officers ignoring Santa’s pleads to explain why they were arresting him.“I wrote the word love,” Santa is heard saying. “This is not right.”“I’m a nice person. Please tell them to stop.”At one point in the clip, Peterson asks an officer for his name, then after given a response replies, “Well, you’re damn sure not on the good list.”"You're arresting Santa Claus?” parents are heard asking the cops."DPS has overstepped all boundaries today and I will stand and wait for Santa. I hope he's out quick, I hear he still has a lot to do to get ready for Tuesday," witness Christopher Michael tells Occupy Austin.“Occupy Austin believes that the use of washable sidewalk chalk is constitutionally protected free speech, and several previous court rulings agree. The organization demands that the Texas State Preservation Board respect the free speech rights of chalkers, and that State Troopers halt arrests immediately,” the group writes in a statement.DPS spokesman Tom Vinger tells the Austin Statesman that Peterson was asked by a capitol employee to stop defacing the grounds but refused.