Archive for Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Protesters question officers’ actions

Attorney accuses police of selective enforcement

November 19, 2003


Police trampled protesters' rights when arresting them this summer outside a Dole Institute of Politics dedication event, a defense attorney charged Tuesday.

"The Constitution got thrown in the garbage," attorney Bruce Plenk said in the closing argument of a trial in municipal court for six protesters arrested July 21 outside a $500-a-plate dinner at the Lawrence Holidome, 200 McDonald Drive.

City prosecutor Jerry Little painted a different picture, saying the defendants -- some of whom identify themselves as anarchists -- came out looking for a confrontation with police.

"It's clear they were armed to do battle," Little said, citing equipment including a long plastic shield and a handful of large cardboard boxes stuffed with paper, which police feared the group would set on fire.

Each protester is charged with unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct, failing to get a permit to block the road, walking in the road and failing to comply with an order to leave the road.

Little argued that, regardless of defendants' individual actions, all were guilty because they acted in concert.

The statements on the cardboard boxes and pre-protest fliers-- including the words "fight back" and "kick the ass of the ruling class"-- showed that the group meant to cause a disturbance, Little said.

Plenk, however, asked Judge Randy McGrath to acquit all defendants on constitutional grounds. The arrests amounted to selective enforcement of the law to target the protest, Plenk said.

"The premise of the prosecution's argument here is that the Constitution be damned," Plenk said.

The circumstances of each defendants' arrest vary, but in general all were arrested during scuffles after the group tried to cross from the west side of McDonald Drive toward the Holidome.

Police Chief Ron Olin testified he did his best to make clear that protesters weren't to be standing in the road. He said he tried to negotiate a place for the protest as the group walked down the road, and he said for about an hour, some group members played "cat and mouse" games on the roadside -- asking police if it was illegal for them to be standing here or there.

Protesters claim they never got a clear order to stay out of the road, and Plenk questioned why police didn't set up yellow tape or use a public-address system.

He argued that the right-of-way permit law is unclear, unpublicized and was invoked as a way to shut down the protest. When the same group occupied the intersection of 23rd and Massachusetts streets earlier this year, police simply steered traffic around the protest, he said.

McGrath took the case under advisement and will issue a ruling later.

The protesters in court Tuesday were Vanessa Hays, 22, Lawrence; Jeffrey Milner, 21, Lawrence; David Strano, 22, Lawrence; Grant Hays, 19, Denver; Dawn Rewolinski, 18, Denver; and Tyler Harrison, 21, Pittsburg. Trials are pending in District Court for three other defendants charged with battering police.

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