A leader in the Occupy Sebastopol movement begun last fall was arrested on a felony charge Thursday after police said he threatened a Bank of America security guard during a sidewalk encounter earlier in the day.
Chris Rockwell, 33, admitted telling the guard anyone who worked for the bank was a "criminal."
But he flatly denied what police said were threats to "shoot him and blow up the bank" — threats that Police Officer David Ginn said caused the guard to fear for his life.
Rockwell, reached by phone Friday several hours after bailing out of jail, said he was "shocked" when Ginn asked him about the alleged threats in the minutes before he was arrested.
"Honestly, I'm a militant pacifist," Rockwell said. "It is not my style."
But Ginn said the security guard reported Rockwell "walked right up to him and said, &‘You're a criminal. I'm going to come shoot you and blow up the bank.'"
Though the Occupy movement — a year-old, worldwide protest of economic and social inequality — ostensibly has no leaders, Rockwell took a vocal, leadership role in the early days of the occupation of the downtown plaza last November.
He said police quickly alerted him they knew who he was and that he was avidly posting social and political criticism online, as well as videos from the Occupy encampment then in place in Sebastopol.
The movement has since morphed and encampments demobilized, though a pop-up awning in Sebastopol's plaza still is used to promote its cause.
That's where Rockwell was arrested Thursday afternoon, several hours after walking his 8-year-old daughter to school and then, on his way back home, passing the Healdsburg Avenue branch of the Bank of America, a target of Occupy criticism.
Rockwell said he told the security guard he was working for a criminal institution, making him a criminal himself. He said he also told a bank customer inside a car that he, too, was a criminal.
"It was hyperbolic, and it was unnecessary, and it was probably distasteful, but definitely not illegal," Rockwell said.
Ginn, however, said the security guard was fearful enough to call police, and officers immediately began looking for someone who matched the description provided by the guard.
Ginn was at the plaza later in the day when Rockwell stopped by the Occupy awning to chat with some friends after his volunteer shift as lunch supervisor at his daughter's school.
He said Ginn chatted him up and eventually asked about threats reportedly made to the guard. Rockwell was arrested for suspicion of making criminal threats. He said he was held at the Sonoma County Jail for 10 hours, including six hours in a solitary cell, before he posted bond for $10,000 bail.
Ginn said Rockwell was slated to appear in court Sept. 19. Whether he is charged "will be up to the district attorney ... It is a felony charge," Ginn said.
You can reach Staff Writer
Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan