1978: Morningland Vows to Drop Suit If Police Release Probe Report


By Suzanne Choney, Staff Writer, The San Diego Union

Representatives of Morningland yesterday said they would drop a civil suit filed against the City of Escondido if the city’s Police Department will release a report on the investigation of the religious organization. Attorneys for Morningland, Ed Masry and Andrew Zanger, Sri Patricia, spiritual director of Morningland; and the group’s public relations director, Steve Tamietti, presided over an hour-long press conference yesterday at the Little America Westgate Hotel, denying the charges that have been made against the religious group.

Morningland filed a suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court contending those Escondido city officials, as well as a group of “concerned Christians” via attempts to interfere with Morningland’s activities. The Escondido City Council April 5 approved a request by Charles Rittgers and Inez Bingham to direct city police to investigate Morningland, which has its center and temple at 442 N. Rose St. in Escondido. In a letter presented to the council, Bingham said Morningland is responsible for breaking up marriages, as well as seeking control of minor children, and that the center uses mind control and claims medical cures through healings.

Masry said Morningland’s suit, which has not been served to city officials, would be quickly withdrawn “if the Escondido City Council will afford Morningland an opportunity to be heard and immediately rectify” the council directive on the police investigation. Masry, a Los Angeles attorney, said he met with Econdido police officers Wednesday to discuss the charges against Morningland. He said he was told the investigation has been going on for 60 days, and was started before the April 5 council meeting. He said police told him they are “unable to adequately investigate because they are understaffed,” and that the council has not allocated sufficient funds for a complete investigation.

“I have tried to understand why the City Council would direct the Escondido Police Department to conduct a witch hunt with no money and no manpower,” he said. “We have no objection to a fair investigation,” Masry said. “What we object to is a failure of the Escondido Police Department to release a report stating the results of their investigations.” Escondido Police Chief Jim Connole was unavailable for comment yesterday, but left word with a Police Department spokesman the “he has no comment to make at this time.” Escondido Councilman Jerry Harmon, who attended yesterday’s press conference said he was baffled by Morningland’s complaints that the group has been harassed by frequent police and fire department checks of its building in past months. “That’s news to me,” he said.

Harmon, in talking with Masry after the press conference, said he was “sorry” Morningland officials did not attempt to contact city officials before deciding to take an “extreme approach” and file the suit. Harmon said the council was not wrong in seeking the investigation which he said has nothing to do with Morningland’s religious or philosophical beliefs. “There were some criminal accusations made,” he said, “and it seemed prudent to take the next step to get the facts.” Harmon said he is “certain” the matter will be discussed with Escondido’s city attorney, and that it will probably be discussed at the council’s next meeting, scheduled for Wednesday.