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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

Woman may be charged for Saturday's San Diego protest against stay-at-home order

A 27-year-old woman who organized a 'Freedom Rally' could face misdemeanor charges.

SAN DIEGO — Editor's note: A previous version of this story indicated that Naomi Soria believed she was going to be arrested for the protest. Police have said this is not the case.

A woman who organized last weekend's protest in downtown San Diego, opposing stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus pandemic, is facing possible misdemeanor charges that could result in 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, the woman and her attorneys said Wednesday.

Naomi Soria, 27, was one of hundreds who demonstratively opposed California's stay-at-home orders during a "Freedom Rally" Saturday afternoon in front of the Hall of Justice.

"I'm very aware that this is a very controversial issue," said Soria.

She said the San Diego Police Department notified her of the potential charges Tuesday.

A spokesperson for SDPD confirms, out of the hundreds at the protest, Soria is the only one they've submitted a case on to the city attorney's office. He told News 8 she is the one who organized the gathering and encouraged others to gather, which is a violation of the county's public health order to stay at home.

"They can't stop me," said Soria. "I'm exercising my God-given constitutional rights and I'm protected by all the amendments."

Soria is being represented by the Center for American Liberty, a nonprofit organization that has also challenged the state's stay-at-home order on various fronts, including filing a lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom last week for prohibiting in-person church services.

"We have these un-elected public heath officials violating people's constitutional rights," said Soria's attorney Mark Meuser. "Not only by making them stay home but also depriving them of their ability to even go out and petition their government."

Soria said she also believes police are trying to stop her from holding another protest Sunday in Pacific Beach.

She took to Facebook on Wednesday to discuss the case, writing "I will be arrested on Sunday for exercising my constitutional rights."

MY PROTEST MADE THE FRONT PAGE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SDPD says they're aware of this weekend's planned gathering. A spokesperson said if Soria chooses to go through with it, they may recommend additional charges.

Following Saturday's protest in San Diego and a related Sunday protest in Encinitas, many questioned why arrests or citations were not levied against the protesters for flouting public health orders prohibiting large public gatherings and asking people to stay six feet apart from one another.

Rev. Shane Harris, CEO of the People's Alliance for Justice, asked San Diego officials to issue citations to those who gathered and questioned why churchgoers were not allowed to congregate in person without penalty, yet the protesters were.

"Are we protecting the constitutional rights of some while ordering the rights of others to be knocked down?" asked Harris, who also said the protests represented "racial entitlement" and that people of color would not be allowed to congregate in a similar fashion without legal repercussions.

In a joint statement issued Monday by the SDPD and the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, the agencies said that although the events were allowed to go forward, legal consequences would still be in order.

"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 issued Monday read.

RELATED: San Diego community leaders question lack of citations for weekend protesters

RELATED: No weekend protesters cited for violating stay-at-home orders in San Diego County

Center for American Liberty CEO Harmeet K. Dhillon called the possible charges "outrageous."

"Our client is being charged with a crime for participating in constitutionally protected activity. The right to assemble and to petition the government does not exist if there are topics that are off limits," Dhillon said.

Dhillon disputed that protesters did not practice social distancing, saying Israel and others took part "in a responsible protest adhering to social distancing guidelines. She, along with other protesters, stood six feet apart on a public sidewalk."

"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," she said.