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Man arrested after not disclosing disability

By William Inman Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday September 06, 2000

Michael Minasian says that he and King, his 80 pound German Shepherd service dog, went into the Jupiter Cafe at 2181 Shattuck Ave. Sunday afternoon for a Caesar salad. 

Instead, the 47-year-old Berkeley Waterfront Commissioner spent 17 hours in the Santa Rita jail for trespassing after he refused to divulge his disability and credentials for the dog to Berkeley police and to Joe Bisbiglia, the restaurant manager. 

Minasian claims that his right to medical privacy, and his legal right to have the dog – covered by Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act – were violated when Bisbiglia refused to serve him because of the dog, and then those rights were stomped on when he was arrested. 

Title III of the ADA makes it a federal offense for a restaurant or similar public establishment to deny service to an individual with an ADA compliant disability who is accompanied by a service animal. 

According to Erica Jones, director of the Pacific Disability and Business Technical Center, it’s illegal under the act to ask what a person’s disability is. Police responded to calls by both Bisbiglia and Minasian to the cafe after Bisbiglia refused to serve Minasian and asked him to leave. 

Minasian said that he called the police for a reading of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

On the other hand, Bisbiglia called because he wanted Minasian and his dog removed. 

Minasian said he was stunned when police asked him the very same question Bisbiglia did, and demanded credentials for the tagless dog. 

Minasian, who – according to the police report – doesn’t appear disabled, continued to refuse to answer questions about the nature of his disability and was subsequently arrested when Bisbiglia signed a citizen’s arrest. Minasian is adamant that the law is the issue, not his disability and declined to reveal his disability to the Daily Planet Tuesday. He did say that he has a letter from a physician saying that his illness is ADA compliant and that the dog is certified under the ADA. 

The ADA states that dogs are not required to be specially marked or tagged. 

Lt. Russell Lopes, of the Berkeley police, said all dogs in Berkeley are required to be tagged, and that the city provides free licensing for service dogs. 

Minasian claims that two arresting officers were “rude” and “sarcastic.” Lopes said, on the other hand, that the police report stated that Minasian became “belligerent” at the cafe. 

Minasian also said in a written statement that a third officer attempted to convince the two officers that they and the cafe were both in violation of federal law, but the two other officers disagreed and he was taken to the station. 

Lopes said that since Minasian would not tell police at the station about his condition, or any medical requirements he may need, he was transferred to the Santa Rita jail where there is a medical staff. At 10:30 a.m. Monday, his attorney posted $2,500 bail after 17 hours in custody. King, the dog, had also been taken into custody and spent the night at the animal shelter. 

John Martin, owner of Jupiter Cafe said that his employee was in a difficult situation and called police to mediate the situation. 

Martin said that the health department does not allow pet dogs in restaurants, and since there were no indicators that Minasian needed the dog, nor was the dog marked, Bisbiglia simply asked him why. According to the federal act, the ADA trumps the health department, and Minasian says that the restaurant and the police should know that. 

He says he plans on taking this as far as he can.  

“There’s every reason that there will be a recurrence,” he said. “This is simply intolerable.” 

He said he’s filed a complaint with the U.S. Dept. of Justice, and is awaiting the results. 

The Department may file lawsuits in Federal court to enforce the ADA and may obtain court orders including compensatory damages to remedy discrimination. Under Title III the department may also obtain civil penalties of up to $50,000 for the first violation and $100,000 for subsequent violations.