Fort Meade cops pull over Wikileaks Truck for distributing “Top Secret WikiLeaks Info”

Who knew that the WikiLeaks Truck was chock full of Top Secret Info? Just like it says in bold lettering on the side!

Clark Stoeckley was pulled over this evening while driving the WikiLeaks Truck–no connection to media group WikiLeaks–after a long day at Fort Meade covering whistleblower Bradley Manning’s trial. Stoeckley is a cartoonist who has published a book about Manning’s pre-trial hearings.

His tweets recounting his chat with the Fort Meade officers speak for themselves. It was Stoeckley who got pulled over, but the punchline is how someone pulled one over on these two cops for a laugh.

Franklin School advocates convicted, remain determined to fight homelessness

Photo by Associated Press

After three days of trial, a jury delivered a guilty verdict to six defendants charged with unlawful entry of public property, a felony offense. The six were among thirteen people affiliated with organization Free Franklin DC, which orchestrated a political action intended to draw attention to the abandoned state of the building, formerly used as a homeless shelter.  On November 19, 2011, they were arrested after they entered the vacant building, ascended to the roof of the Franklin School and unfurled a large black banner saying, “Property Under Community Control.”

Judge Patricia Broderick sentenced the defendants to 5 days in jail, suspended, 3 months unsupervised probation and a $50 fine. She further instructed them to stay away from the Franklin School, also known as the Franklin Shelter, located on 13th St. across from Franklin Park. In handing down the light sentence which lacked a requirement of community service, she remarked, “Most of what they do is community service.”

Yet the social issues of homelessness and usage of public resources that the defendants and their supporters sought to highlight had a hard time being voiced in the courtroom. Judge Broderick declared, “This is not a trial by political process.” She denied defendants recourse on legal grounds to most of the good faith defense, which would have allowed testimony about the past contentious struggle with District government over the building’s usage. She also seemed determined to keep the trial from becoming a political platform and was adamant that the jury wouldn’t be swayed by outside influences, such as Free Franklin DC t-shirts worn by some audience members.

The prosecution also sought to keep political and social issues from entering into play. Free Franklin DC supporter Ray Valentine said the government “worked hard to prevent any mention of the shameful history of this building and others like it.”

The defense never disputed that the six defendants entered the building on November 19, but the government had to meet a high burden of proof. In an unusual tactic, the defense challenged the actual ownership of the building, contending that it belonged to the community, not to the District government, and therefore the community was entitled to determine how it should best be used. Defense counsel Kanita Williams said that the defendants entered with the good faith belief that they weren’t committing an illegal act, and she repeatedly stressed that they entered through an open door, bringing with them cleaning supplies in order to “restore” the building. Defendant pro se Jesse Schultz said, “We had reason to believe that we were welcome in the Franklin Shelter.”

The strategy of government prosecutor Adam Dinnell however was to keep the case a simple matter of unlawful entry. In his opening statement to the jury, he said, “This case is about property rights, and the rights of an owner to control whether they want people on their property or not.”  Three government witnesses testified that the legal property owner is the District government, and they also gave testimony which conflicted with the defense’s assertion that they entered freely. “If they just walked through an open door, why did it take the police three hours to get in?” Dinnell asked, referring to a request for the fire department’s aid. He contested the defendants’ presumption of authority, saying that their decision to act “doesn’t trump the decisions of elected officials. It didn’t entitle them to take over the building.”

Defendant Jesse Schultz chose to act as his own attorney during the proceedings because “I felt there was a need for someone to introduce things a lawyer can’t without risking their bar card.”

“For me,” he said, ”the verdict shows that the public still has to follow the system no matter how corrupt the system has become, no matter how much damage the judicial system is a part of it. A lot of normal people aren’t ready to rebel yet. Hopefully that will change.”

Another Free Franklin DC community member wasn’t pleased with the verdict but pointed out that publicity was positive. “I think it’s good that the defendants had the opportunity to make a case in front of the jury and re-state demands, bring more attention to the issue,” DC resident Anna Duncan said. “The defendants showed throughout the trial that the Franklin building belongs to the people, and the community should be the one who decides what to do with it.”

Defendant Rosa Lozano, who testified during trial, said, “The real crime here is the mismanagement of public resources like Franklin and the lack of services for DC’s homeless.”

The organization seems determined to keep organizing and challenging District officials to address the future of the Franklin School. “We’ll continue to fight to get public property used to meet community needs,” Duncan said.

Schultz emphasized that Franklin School represented a larger cause. “Franklin is an essential piece in a battle between people and money. Look where it’s located, on K St., where money and politics intersect.”

The defendants intend to appeal their sentence.

The Battle of the Barn

A different version of events. Too bad this wasn’t admitted into evidence during the trial of OccuBarn defendants. I think Judge Wingo would have enjoyed it.

Jeff Light: “Will work for cupcakes”

Attorney Jeff Light (photo by coolrevolution.net)

During the Occubarn hearing and trial, Judge Wingo took plenty of opportunities to praise defense counsel Jeff Light. Several times she seemed to catch herself and include government prosecutor Sean Farrelly as an afterthought, however accomplished an attorney he may be.

She described Light’s motions as “clearly and concisely argued,” “nicely laid out,” and “very nicely written on a complex issue.” After motions for judgment to acquit, she again commended him. “Thank you for clear, concise arguments,” she said. “I really appreciate the quality of work here.”

Before delivering the verdict, the judge said, “I really appreciate the efforts put forward on both sides, raising and thoroughly investigating the issues.”

Farrelly had to meet an onslaught of motions that Light brought at every opportunity, including motions to dismiss based on constitutional issues, challenges to chain of custody, accusations of destruction of evidence (including destruction of the Barn itself), and challenges to the method of Identifying defendants by photograph–which won the acquittal of one.

Light graduated from Georgetown Law School in 2004 and is now a solo practitioner, doing much pro bono work. This trial is his second trial ever. Affiliated with the National Lawyers Guild, most of his practice is devoted to working with activists as a criminal representative when they have been arrested and their rights violated. He also works on transgender rights and represents groups including the DC Trans Coalition (DCTC).

He currently has fifty cases and no paralegal. “I make the photocopies. When there’s a letter to be mailed, I go to the post office,” he said.

His clients in the OccuBarn case gave him a box of cupcakes–his favorite–in gratitude for his services as their attorney.

OccuBarn trial: Outcome

The OccuVerdict is in: guilty on all counts.

Ten defendants heard the verdict and their sentencing on June 21, the ruling handed down by Judge Elizabeth Wingo after five days of trial–almost twenty hours of motions and testimony–on charges related to a structure erected by Occupy DC in McPherson Park in December, 2011.

All eleven defendants were found guilty of the charge failure to obey in an emergency situation, and one, David Givens, had two additional charges, indecent exposure and disorderly conduct. One defendant had a waiver for his presence that day, and another, Rooj Alwazir, was acquitted last week. Two didn’t appear for trial at all and will have a separate hearing.

The judge prefaced sentencing by saying, “It is clear to me that [the defendants] acted not out of a desire to create havoc, [but out of] a desire to improve the state of the country. They did not have criminal convictions.” She also noted that for the failure to obey charge, community service was not appropriate.

Of the eleven defendants, Judge Wingo distinguished the three who climbed into the rafters of the building from seven who remained on the ground within it in defiance of a police order to vacate. All are required to pay a mandatory $50 assessment to the Victims of Violent Crimes fund.

The seven who remained on the ground within the structure received a $100 fine, suspended.

For the three defendants who took to the rafters and defended it against police the entire day, she took into consideration her assessment that their conduct was “a little more dangerous,” and she believed their “point [as protestors] could have been made another way.” She urged them to “think about the danger posed to themselves and others.” She also imposed $100 fine but did not suspend it.

In addition, one defendant, David Givens, was the last person extricated from the rafters of the OccuBarn, pried off by police officers and delivered into custody by a cherry picker. After ten hours aloft, he declined offers by police to use the porta-potty when they informed him he wouldn’t be able to return to the roof, so he relieved himself. “Urinating in an arc,” the judge said in the findings of fact, “making a display of himself, though not an extreme one.”

Taking into consideration her belief that Givens put Park Police officers “in a fair amount of danger,” she sentenced him to a $150 fine, 90 days suspended, one year unsupervised probation and 24 hours of community service, plus $150 to the Victims of Violent Crime fund.

Upon learning that Givens spent five days in jail when he didn’t identify himself in court, the judge said, “Mr. Givens is committed.” The defendants responded with twinkle fingers, an Occupy signal of solidarity.

Defense counsel Jeff Light was generally pleased by sentencing. “We asked for $1 fine, and got a $0 fine,” he said.

He also thought they were in an advantageous position for appeal. “The judge did a great job of laying out the facts. Findings of fact were great. They’re now and forever the gospel.”

The case will go to appeal, first to an Associate Judge in DC Superior Court, then to the Court of Appeals.

UPDATE: In statement released by his office, Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said, “We respect the right of Occupy DC participants to communicate their message to the public, but they crossed the line by refusing lawful orders to leave a structure that had been declared unsafe. I commend the work of the prosecutors in our Public Safety Division for securing this conviction.”

Corrections: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that eight defendants were given a $100 suspended fine, rather than seven. Also, David Givens was charged with disorderly conduct, not urination in public.

OccuBarn trial: Architect vouches for safety

Architect’s original drawing of OccuBarn

On Day 3 of the OccuBarn trial (June 18), the defense brought architect Kash Bennett to the stand to testify as an expert witness. Bennett works for the firm RTKL Associates, Inc. The architect who actually designed the structure has chosen to remain anonymous.

Charges against the defendants include failure to obey in an emergency situation. Throughout the trial, defense counsel has been attempting to poke a hole in the assumption that this was an emergency situation in the first place. One plank in police rationale for declaring an emergency is that the structure was dangerous and therefore a threat to public safety.

The defense needs to address safety concerns brought up in testimony by prosecution witnesses. Lt. Robert LaChance of U.S. Park Police said he heard “cracking” noises and that the structure started to collapse when police were extricating the last of the Occupiers from the rafters. And the DC Regulatory Affairs inspector who posted “Danger” signs on the OccuBarn testified that by definition the structure was not safe because it had not gone through the permitting process.

Bennet prepared for testimony by reviewing blueprints, drawings, and a 3-D “sketch-up” and found that they were in accordance with many pictures of the structure “in location.” The OccuBarn was intended to be a temporary structure, and Bennett testified that generally such structures are not any less stable, but “over time” one could be concerned with stability since they have no embedded foundation.

On an easel, Bennett drew diagrams to demonstrate architecturally sound design principles, including triangulation and cross-bracing, and compared them with the design of the OccuBarn. He noted that some of the wooden beams were larger than standard for this type of structure.

“This structure in my estimation is actually overbuilt,” he said, explaining that usually a structure is constructed only as safe and functional as necessary. “Everything else is extra cost. [This structure has] an extra margin of safety.” He concluded that it was built in a structurally sound way, repeatedly calling it “strong” and “robust.”

Viewing a photo of Park Service bulldozers demolishing the building, he pointed out how strong the structure was. “See how difficult it was for the demolition crew to take it down,” he said.

Cracking noises, such as those reported by Lt. LaChance, could be accounted for by “settling,” or “a little play in the joinery.”

While he didn’t calculate wind lodes on the structure, saying that such calculations would depend in part on information he didn’t have, such as wood grade, he claimed that it was irrelevant in a structure both small and sturdy. Large temporary structures like concert venues might need wind lodes calculated, but under strong winds, he said, “other tents in the park would be in danger before this would flex a millimeter.”

Under cross-examination, Bennett admitted that “without testing it, you couldn’t be 100% certain [of structural integrity].” But he was confident in his evaluative judgment, saying, “Can a human lift an elephant? The answer is obvious.”

The DC Regulatory Agency inspector testimony and the prosecution’s cross-examination of Bennett relied heavily on demonstrating non-compliance with DC building code. On Day 4, the prosecution will bring its own expert witness, Jatinder Khokhar, to the stand to rebut Bennett’s testimony and testify on building codes, inspection and the permitting process.

McPherson Park, like all parks in the District, is federal land, and it’s not even certain that DC Code even applies. We expect defense counsel to pull that punch in the late stages of trial.

OccuBarn trial: Emergency situation

Some facets of the OccuBarn trial go to the heart of First Amendment issues dogging Occupy movement protests. One of those issues is discretionary powers of police–how laws governing them are conceived, and how those powers are used and abused.

Since findings of fact could very likely go against the defendants in the OccuBarn trial, defense counsel Jeff Light has gone for the jugular in attacking the substantive basis of the charges themselves. And, not only is he challenging the constitutionality of the statutes, he’s attacking the situational basis of one charge in particular: “failure to obey order – emergency.” All fourteen defendants face this charge.

Light is calling into question whether the scene at McPherson Park on December 4, 2011 warranted a declaration of emergency by the police, and he furthermore asserts that they exercised discretionary powers at odds with First Amendment rights.

In the motion to dismiss, he cites an appellate court ruling (Washington Mobilization Committee v. Cullinane) which struck down the District police lines regulation (of which this emergency statute is a part) for being overly broad:

It is difficult to conceive of a more pernicious prescription. A police officer is given unfettered discretion to issue any order he thinks reasonable and then is allowed to initiate criminal proceedings against a person who disobeys the order.

The Catch-22 here is obvious, especially to seasoned protestors. As the motion to dismiss points out, an unjustified order to disperse, for example, can lead to arrest for loitering. During trial, Light said, “For the protection of persons and property, the circumstances are so broad that there are no limits on a police officer’s discretion and whether he believes that it’s necessary [to declare an emergency].” Without express guidelines, police may have the power to criminalize harmless conduct.

Prosecutor Sean Farrelly countered that there was no more discretion involved in declaring an emergency than for a police officer to determine whether a crime was being committed, but he agreed that police could declare an emergency whenever they wanted to.

He gave specific rationale for the police decision to declare an emergency situation at McPherson Park: the OccuBarn structure was unsafe, there were hundreds of people in the park, and it was necessary to shut down traffic around the park.

Judge Elizabeth Wingo denied the motion to dismiss, saying, “The entirety of the statute is aimed at giving police officers authority to deal with an emergency.”

The judge didn’t find the defense’s direct challenges to the statute based on over breadth and vagueness persuasive, but going forward the defense strategy clearly will be attacking the rationale for the police’s declaration.

(Photo by coolrevolution.net)