News: Protesters Go To Trial

Most take plea bargain, then claim they were pressured

Nov 30, 2000 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

About 20 people are fighting charges stemming from demonstrations against the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) Nov. 16 through 18.

Most of the 52 people arrested during protests downtown have pleaded no contest and left jail. During hearings in Hamilton County Municipal Court, seven protesters represented by private attorneys pleaded not guilty. About a dozen others, represented by public defenders, also pleaded not guilty, according to Lucian Bernard, an attorney representing five of the protesters pro bono.

Most of the arrests were for disorderly conduct, and the vast majority occurred Nov. 18, the final day of the TABD conference.

TABD is a consortium of chief executive officers of the largest European and U.S. corporations. The organization's goal is to harmonize international business regulations as a way to improve trade. Critics say TABD undermines laws protecting workers and consumers.

Police had said they arrested 53 demonstrators, but reduced the number to 52 after concluding one of the suspects was not a protester.

In an act of solidarity, many of the women and men arrested during demonstrations initially refused to give their names; court dockets listed them as Jane A. Doe, Jane B. Doe and so on.

About as many women as men went to jail.

Women say medication denied
Some of those arrested said police officers gave them conflicting orders. For example, while one group of officers ordered protesters to walk south, another group of officers blocked their path and said they couldn't go that direction.

Steve Rutherford, 21, a junior studying microbiology at Miami University, says he was arrested while trying to comply with conflicting orders from police. After a rally against police brutality near the Hamilton County Justice Center Nov. 18, Rutherford says, he was walking south on Vine Street, near Fifth Street, with a male and female friend. Police on horseback followed, repeatedly telling them to disperse, which was what they were trying to do — but their car was parked several blocks north. Rutherford says he saw officers treat other small groups the same way.

Rutherford says police blocked them in again at 404 Vine Street, ordered them to disperse from the sidewalk and then arrested them for disorderly conduct. Rutherford and fellow Miami University junior Blake Pendergrass pleaded not guilty, but their friend Carol Tyson, 26, of Washington, D.C., pleaded no contest.

The final parade permit for Nov. 18 expired at 3p.m., so police considered any gathering of protestors after that time illegal, according to Lt. Ray Ruberg, spokesman for the police department.

Lisa Abell, 49, of Nashville, videotaped the protest for the IndyMedia Center, an independent national non-profit group that documents protests and other events. Abell says she generally respects police officers, because they risk their lives to protect others. But during the TABD protests, she says, police seemed to have another agenda — intimidation and controlling the protests.

Abell was arrested Nov. 18 while taping some women being arrested at Fountain Square for concealing their faces. To get closer, Abell says, she crossed Vine Street, where officers were putting suspects on a county bus. Police told her to go back to the square, so she crossed at the walk and kept taping, standing a few steps from the sidewalk, Abell says. Police charged her with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, although Abell says she's not sure how she resisted.

Jail staff intimidated women arrested in the demonstrations, calling them "fucking protesters" and "troublemakers," singling out one woman in particular for verbal abuse, according to Abell.

But the alleged abuse went beyond name-calling. Abell says she was denied prescription medication for a stomach infection she suffers, despite several attempts by others to drop it off at the jail. The infection has since worsened, she says. Jailers denied another woman medication for asthma, and others could hear her labored breathing all night, Abell says.

John Sherman, 40, a professor of Latin American history at Wright State University, attended the protests as an observer concerned about civil rights. Police arrested him near Eighth Street Nov. 18 for failure to disperse, after he allegedly left a sidewalk against police orders. To protest his arrest, Sherman was on a hunger strike for part of his incarceration. He was held four days, until charges were dropped Nov. 22. Sherman was the only adult against whom charges were dropped. He says police officers failed to appear in court to testify against him.

Both women and men were housed in individual cells until Monday morning, when about 20 each were placed in a 12-foot-by-5-foot holding cell for a few hours.

Abell is critical of Hamilton County Public Defender Lou Strigari, who, she says, coerced female protesters to plead no contest.

"We didn't really trust what Strigari was saying," Abell says.

Abell, Sherman and others said Strigari told them he made a deal with prosecutors: If everyone pleaded no contest, they would be released immediately, without fines or jail time. If everyone didn't agree, they say Strigari told them, the deal would be nullified. Abell says the main reason women decided to plead no contest was to make sure the woman who was being singled out for abuse didn't get stuck in jail; she was last on the arraignment docket.

Sherman says he talked some of the men into pleading not guilty.

Strigari says the no-contest pleas were a "no brainer," because they got people out of jail immediately, with no cost. Asked if he thought all the disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and other charges were valid, Strigari said, "I don't know what the defense to something like that would be ... I think that overall they were treated well by the system."

Pink hair is not a crime
Hamilton County Municipal Judge William Mallory Jr. heard most of the pleas Nov. 20. For most of the protesters, this was their first time in jail. Mallory seemed annoyed that some had withheld their names when arrested.

Most of the charges were for disorderly conduct for blocking streets or sidewalks. A few were charged with resisting arrest or refusing to remove masks and reveal their faces, which is illegal under a city law. Most of those arrested are young and from the Midwest, especially Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

Mallory first heard the cases involving women, nearly all of whom pleaded no contest and were released without paying any fines or costs.

Mallory said he sympathized with the protesters in part. But he sometimes poked fun at them. For example, the pink hair of Gretchen Scronce, a 21-year-old student at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. caught the judge's eye. Scronce pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct.

"They haven't arrested you for the hair thing?" Mallory said.

Abigail Pound, a 20-year-old Earlham student, mentioned she might write a paper on her experience in Cincinnati. Mallory gave Pound his business card, saying he wanted to read the paper.

"I'm going to share this with my son and tell him not to be like you," Mallory said.

One of the Jane Does jailed by police, Laticia Melo of Mason, turned out to be only 16 years old. When Melo gave her age, Mallory looked at City Prosecutor Terry Cosgrove and said, "Uh-oh." Cosgrove said Melo hadn't given her name, so there was no way to know her age. Mallory dismissed the case.

The men came next, several pleading not guilty because they wanted a trial. Mallory reminded them a lot of the women were going to be done with their charges and out of jail in a few hours because they pleaded no contest. But none of the men changed their minds.

A couple of protesters said they were pleading no contest because they needed to get out of jail, including Marie Mason, a mother of two; and Abell. Strigari, who handled most of the protestors' cases, said he thought Mallory was fair because he dismissed jail and court costs for no-contest pleas. Mallory also allowed locals pleading not guilty to leave jail without bond, while out-of-towners faced a $1,000 bond.

Disorderly conduct carries a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and a $250 fine, and resisting arrest a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.

Zeke Spier, 19, of Philadelphia, arrested Nov. 18 at Fountain Square for disorderly conduct, says he believes protestors were encouraged to plead no contest in order to get their cases out of the courts.

Five defendants appeared before Municipal Judge Ralph Winkler. While Mallory chatted with defendants, even laughing a couple of times, Winkler barely wasted a word. Two brothers, Brian and Colin Cairns, asked for a joint trial on charges of disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing; Winkler granted the motion. Police say the Cairn brothers interrupted a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performance attended by TABD delegates, unveiling a banner inscribed, "No god, no state, no war, no hate."

Colin Moore, a United Parcel Service employee from Louisville, pleaded no contest to a charge of rioting. Moore picked up a police barricade and moved it during a march Nov. 17. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Winkler found him guilty, then asked for mitigating factors for the sentencing.

Cosgrove said Moore was the leader of the crowd.

"Basically it was just a small-scale riot," Cosgrove said.

Moore disputed the characterization.

"All I can say is that I was not by any means a leader," he said.

Outside court, others involved in the protest said Moore acted on his own.

Winkler sentenced Moore to five days in jail, with credit for the two days he had already served.

Clifford Bennett, wearing jail clothes and handcuffs, pleaded not guilty to obstructing justice. Officers arrested Bennett for allegedly attempting to harm a horse; he is scheduled to stand trial Jan. 23.

Michael Lasday, 18, of Chicago, pleaded not guilty to criminal mischief, obstruction of official business and criminal mischief. Arrested Nov. 17 near Fountain Square, he has a Jan. 29 trial date. ©