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News :: Protest, Resistance and Direct Action
Lawrence Protesters Cleared of Four Charges Current rating: 3
09 Dec 2003
Protesters cleared of four charges
Judge: City evidence fell 'woefully short' of proof

By Eric Weslander, Lawrence Journal-World

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

A judge has cleared a group of protesters of all but one of the five charges against them stemming from a July 21 protest outside a Dole Institute of Politics dedication event.

The evidence at times fell "woefully short" of proving the six protesters' guilt, Municipal Court Judge Randy McGrath wrote in a ruling provided Monday to the Journal-World. He found them not guilty of unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct, failure to get a right-of-way permit and refusing to comply with a traffic order.

He found them guilty of walking in the roadway, a traffic infraction.

The protesters -- some of whom label themselves anarchists -- were among the 18 people arrested outside a $500-a-plate dinner at the Lawrence Holidome, 200 McDonald Drive. They stood trial as a group Nov. 17 and 18.

McGrath's ruling says:

• The protesters are not guilty of unlawful assembly because the city failed to prove they planned to break the law or commit acts of violence. City prosecutor Jerry Little had argued at trial that the protesters showed violent intent in part by carrying signs with slogans such as "Kick the ass of the ruling class" and by carrying cardboard boxes stuffed with paper that could have been set on fire.

But McGrath pointed out that one of the protesters had told police she expected it to be a nonviolent protest.

"Some chanted, some held signs, some did both, and some, such as the elderly woman in the wheelchair who was part of the march ... were just there lending support," McGrath wrote. "There is no direct or circumstantial evidence supporting this charge, and it falls woefully short of proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

• There was no proof that Police Chief Ron Olin or other officers gave the protesters clear orders to get out of McDonald Drive. Olin testified that he made contact with some of the protesters and tried to negotiate with them as they walked down the road, but McGrath found proof that only one protester -- who was not a defendant -- got clear instructions to get out of the road.

• The city couldn't produce any witnesses to show that protesters needed a right-of-way permit, which is required when people want to temporarily block a road or sidewalk. Instead, McGrath's ruling says, both Olin and City Clerk Frank Reeb testified that they thought protesters might have needed a parade permit, which is different from a right-of-way permit.

• The city failed to show that each protester's actions were enough to "alarm, anger or disturb" others -- a required element of the charge of disorderly conduct. One reason McGrath cited is that the city didn't produce testimony from any of the passers-by who were alleged to have been alarmed or angered.

Protester Vanessa Hays said she was relieved by the ruling and happy none of the defendants would have to serve a jail sentence.

"I think somebody just wanted to try to make a point and make an example out of us," she said.

Little, the city prosecutor, didn't return a phone call seeking comment.

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