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Last Updated: Friday, 10 June, 2005, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
Tensions rise outside Jackson court
By Matthew Davis
BBC News in Santa Maria, California

As the jury in the Michael Jackson child abuse trial continues to discuss a verdict, the atmosphere among fans, protesters, residents, media and police is becoming increasingly tense.

Michael Jackson fans
Tension is growing between fans, the media, residents and police
Police in Santa Maria say they expect a "highly emotional" reaction from fans when a verdict is announced.

The crowd of supporters at the gates of the city courthouse is expected to swell to more than 1,000 people when the one-hour warning is given that jurors have reached a decision.

Police chiefs are preparing to draft in up to 200 officers for the verdict to keep proceedings from descending into chaos.

The moves come amid growing tension among supporters of the singer, the media, local residents and police, all of whom are awaiting a verdict for quite different reasons.

Rocks banned

Some Jackson fans are nursing a grudge against journalists for what they see as unfair coverage of the superstar.

Abusive chants have been directed at reporters in the media pen at the courthouse or outside Jackson's Neverland ranch.

Other fans have taken to sounding their car horns in unison to disrupt live broadcasts or tried to stop cameras filming.

Earlier this week, police banned those camped out in front of court from using rocks to hold down their posters, amid fears the stones could be stockpiled as weapons.

police in Santa Maria
Police have dealt with a number of confrontations involving fans
"Tension has been increasing every day the jury deliberates," said Sergeant Eric Raney, with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department.

"It is being felt by everyone," the officer told the BBC. "The fans are feeling it, the media are feeling it and the general public too."

Police have been out to Neverland ranch on several occasions to investigate complaints that fans were putting out strips of spikes - designed to burst car tyres - on the roadside.

It is reported that this was in response to a car that had deliberately mown down a number of tributes that fans had placed on verges near the ranch.

Whatever the truth, police acknowledge it as another sign of the friction.

Some (fans) are certainly getting bored and a little frustrated with the wait for a verdict
Lt Chris Vaughan, Santa Maria city police
This week alone, officers have dealt with at least eight confrontations involving fans - some with the media, others involving disagreements between demonstrators.

Lieutenant Chris Vaughan, with Santa Maria city police, told the BBC: "This has consistently been a highly emotional crowd throughout the trial, and some of them are certainly getting bored and a little frustrated with the wait for a verdict.

"For the most part, fans have been co-operative with us.

"But the hardcore fans are emotional people and if someone shows up with a sign that they disagree with, there will be confrontations. When this has happened we have moved in quickly and they have not escalated."

Many followers of the entertainer reject suggestions they are ready to "boil over".

Michael Jackson fan Wiedjay Sewgobind from the Netherlands
Fans have denied the suggestion that they are ready to "boil over"
Sudhir Kumra, 37, from London, said he had met some "wonderful people".

"You get to meet some scary people as well. But that's Michael Jackson, and he draws people from all over."

Fariba Garmani, 44, has a box of white homing pigeons she intends to free when the verdicts come in. Emotional - yes, but also peaceful, she says.

Christoph Klinger and Svenja Maniak have both come from Germany to support the star.

Mr Maniak held aloft a sign decorated with an image of the singer kissing a small child, a picture of Peter Pan and the words, "Germany fights with you. Keep the faith!"

Mr Klinger's message was directed at prosecutor Tom Sneddon - a hate figure for some Jackson fans who claim he has a vendetta against the pop star.

"Hi Sneddon, it's time for you to retire!" was the message to the law man.

Calm urged

A few fans have been less approachable - rudely declining interviews or shouting with rabid intensity.

Concerns over the reaction on verdict day - whatever the decision - have prompted Jackson's friends and advisors to urge calm.

The star's spokeswoman Raymone Bain called for "level heads".

"This is not a circus. This is not a game. This is not a concert," she said.

This is not a circus. This is not a game. This is not a concert
Michael Jackson's spokeswoman Raymone Bain
City police have about 14 officers on duty in the streets outside the court complex, but can swell that number to 26 in three minutes, and to 30 in five minutes.

Calling in officers from neighbouring counties, there could be 200 on duty by the time a verdict is announced.

Provision is also being made to transport Jackson to a holding prison in Santa Barbara, should he be found guilty of any of the most serious charges he faces.

A softball field adjacent to the court could be used as a landing pad for a helicopter, should police deem it too risky to use a police van.

"The last thing we want is a large-scale confrontation on the day," added Lt Vaughan.


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