Canine, Disabled Owner, Salad Toss Up Controversy in Local Restaurant

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An argument over the American Disabilities Act landed a Berkeley resident and his dog in jail Sunday when he only wanted a Caesar salad.

Michael Minasian, a member of the city's Waterfront Commission, said he came to Jupiter, a restaurant on Shattuck Avenue, to have lunch when he was asked to leave because he had a dog with him. The dog, he said, is licensed as a "service dog" to aid him with his disability, but does not have a harness or tag that identifies it as a certified animal.

When the store's owner asked him to specify the nature of his disability, Minasian declined to answer, citing the American Disabilities Act, which does not require people with disabilities to carry certification.

"I am jealously safeguarding my medical privacy," Minasian said. "I wasn't going to allow myself to be humiliated and have my rights violated."

As an argument ensued, both Minasian and the manager called the police to settle it. They came, asked Minasian for proof of his disability and, when he refused, handcuffed and arrested him for trespassing.

Minasian said the officers, who took him to the department, were "disrespectful" and "unprofessional" as well as being ignorant of the law. He said they then took him to Santa Rita County Jail, where he was put in prison garb and made to stay the night until he was able to contact his lawyer.

"I'm still in shock," Minasian said. "The conduct was so shameful."

Berkeley police Lt. Russel Lopes said it is his understanding that a dog is required by law to have a tag certifying it as an official service animal. He said Minasian was uncooperative and was sent to Santa Rita because it has a medical ward to assist him with his disability.

"You see what the problem is," Lopes said. "Everybody with a dog in town is going to go (into restaurants) and say that they have a disability."

According to the U.S. Department of Justice Web site, the act protects the privacy of a disabled person.

"Animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified," it said. "You may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability. The service animal must be permitted to accompany the individual with a disability to all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go."

Minasian said he filed a complaint with the federal government and that the restaurant's manager and the officer in charge should be charged with a misdemeanor. He said he feels resentful toward the police because he fought for their funding as chair of the Citizens Budget Review Commission.

Jupiter's owner, John Martin, said the restaurant requested that the dog leave because of the city's health codes.

"We thought it would be great to bring your beagle and have a beer, but the city had made it very clear to us that we can't have dogs on our patios unless they're service dogs," he said.

Martin said Minasian became "belligerent" and created a scene, driving the manager to sign a citizen's arrest.

The city's health department, however, said it defers to federal law. Eric Dibner, Berkeley's disability services specialist said that while dogs are not allowed in restaurants, service dogs are, even without identification.

City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque said her office is looking into possible misconduct by the police.


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