Stay-at-Home Protest Organizer Faces Fine, up to Six Months in Jail for San Diego Rally

A woman who organized a protest in San Diego opposing California's stay-at-home order is facing arrest and possible misdemeanor charges that could result in 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Naomi Soria, 27, who goes by the name Naomi Israel on Facebook, was one of hundreds who demonstrated against California's orders to curb the spread of COVID-19 during a rally on April 18.

She is being represented by the nonprofit organization Center for American Liberty, which has challenged the stay-at-home order. Last week, the organization filed a lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom for prohibiting in-person church services.

The San Diego Police Department confirmed it has contacted the City Attorney's Office "requesting their review to issue charges against the protest organizer for violating the county health order by organizing a gathering."

Stay at home protest San Diego
Demonstrators protest during a "Freedom Rally" against Stay-At-Home Directives on April 18, 2020 in San Diego, California Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

A joint statement from San Diego County Sheriff's Department and San Diego Police Department read: "On Saturday, a large protest was held in Downtown San Diego in front of Superior Court.

"Several hundred protestors gathered to voice their frustration, anger and disagreement with the governmental orders. On Sunday, a protest was held in Encinitas protesting the closure of beaches and public spaces.

"Saturday's protest happened in San Diego Police Department jurisdiction. Sunday's protest happened in Sheriff's Department jurisdiction. Both law enforcement agencies recognize the public's desire to express their First Amendment rights.

"The San Diego Police Department and San Diego County Sheriff's Department recognize this fundamental right while balancing it with the need to enforce the public health orders.

"While no citations were issued at the protests, that does not mean prosecution will not be sought, especially to the organizers of these events. While no citations were issued at the protests, that does not mean prosecution will not be sought, especially to the organizers of these events," the statement read.

Center for American Liberty CEO Harmeet K. Dhillon said in a statement: "The First Amendment guarantees the right to peacefully protest.

"Our client participated in a responsible protest adhering to social distancing guidelines. She, along with other protestors, stood six feet apart on a public sidewalk. It is outrageous that our client is being charged with a crime for participating in constitutionally protected activity.

"Governor Newsom cannot shut down the state's economy and then prosecute criminally freedom-loving Californians who peacefully protest his decision. Nor may county and city officials abuse their power to punish protesters expressing protected opinions and doing so in a lawful and safe manner.

"We intend to fight San Diego's punishment of our client if the authorities decide to proceed with this ill-advised attempt to chill the speech of Americans."

Newsweek has contacted the San Diego Police Department, San Diego Sheriff's Office and Center for American Liberty for comment.

California's stay-at-home order requires all state residents to remain at home, apart from those working in a selection of key sectors.