Amy Goodman / Democracy Now! & The Huffington Post – 2017-12-17 01:03:43
Elizabeth Lagesse is facing several felony charges in connection with her arrest during Trump’s inauguration.
Medics, Observers and a Journalist Face
50 Years in Prison in First Trial of
January 20 Inauguration Protests
Amy Goodman / Democracy Now!
(December 15, 2017) — Final arguments are underway today in Washington, DC, in a case that could shape the future of free speech and the right to protest in the United States: the first trial of the nearly 200 people arrested during President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
As demonstrators, journalists and observers gathered in Northwest DC after the inauguration on January 20, some separated from the group and vandalized nearby businesses and vehicles. Police officers then swept hundreds of people in the vicinity into a blockaded corner in a process known as “kettling,” where they carried out mass arrests of everyone in the area.
The first so-called J20 trial could go to a jury as early as today, and involves six people, including one journalist, Alexei Wood, a freelance photojournalist. The defendants face multiple felony and misdemeanor charges, including multiple counts of destruction of property.
Evidence against the defendants has been scant. We get an update from Jude Ortiz, a member of the organizing crew of Defend J20 and the Mass Defense Committee chair for the National Lawyers Guild. He’s been in court throughout the first J20 trial.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with an update on a case that could shape the future of free speech and the right to protest in the United States. Final arguments are underway today in Washington, DC, for the first trial of the nearly 200 people arrested during President Trump’s inauguration.
As demonstrators, journalists and observers gathered in Northwest DC after the inauguration, on January 20th, some separated from the group and broke windows of nearby businesses and damaged cars. Police officers then swept hundreds of people in the vicinity into a blockaded corner in a process known as “kettling,” where they carried out mass arrests of everyone in the area.
The first so-called J20 trial could go to a jury as early as today, and involves six people, including one journalist, Alexei Wood, a freelance photojournalist. The defendants face multiple felony and misdemeanor charges, including multiple counts of destruction of property.
Evidence against the defendants has been scant from the moment of their arrest. Earlier this week, Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz threw out the felony charge of inciting a riot for the six people on trial now, meaning they now face up to 50 years in prison instead of up to 60.
This comes as police conduct on Inauguration Day has come under scrutiny by the ACLU, and the chief detective in this case is a police union official who tweeted that police showed great restraint during the inauguration.
Well, for more, we go to Washington, DC We’re joined by Jude Ortiz, a member of the organizing crew of Defend J20 and the Mass Defense Committee chair for National Lawyers Guild. He’s been in court throughout this first J20 trial.
Jude, welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain what has happened so far and the significance of the judge throwing out the charge.
JUDE ORTIZ: Right. Thank you so much for having me on again.
So, since I was on last, the prosecutor has rested their entire case with all the so-called evidence against the defendants, and then the defense has also put on their witnesses to — like as part of their right to have witnesses come and testify on their behalf. That process for the defense was very short, about only about half a day in court. And then, now it’s into the like final arguments stage. So the prosecutors had their argument first, and then each of the defense attorneys for the defendants are putting on their arguments.
This morning at 9:30, there will be the final two defendants, will have their closing arguments, and then the prosecutor will do a rebuttal. Then there will be some more kind of like legal housekeeping to do, before it goes to the jury.
So, the judge throwing out the inciting a riot charge was a huge development in the case. It’s something that after the prosecutor rests their case, defense attorneys will almost always file a motion to have the charges dismissed. In DC, it’s called a motion for judgment of acquittal. And it’s a formality, for the most part. It’s rarely ever successful.
So it was really notable that one of the most significant charges against the defendants, not only in this trial bloc, but also in the case as a whole, was found, in this case, at least, to have no evidentiary basis at all. So, basically, the judge said that the state did not meet the burden of proof, and that charge therefore was dismissed, and the jury will not have to deliberate on that one at all.
AMY GOODMAN: So, but explain what that means, because we’re talking about numerous cases that will follow this one. Does this judge preside over all of these cases if the inciting to riot remains in the other cases?
JUDE ORTIZ: At this point, the judge is assigned to all the other cases. It’s important to note that there’s another case that is scheduled for this coming Monday for seven defendants, but that one probably will not be happening on Monday, because the jury will still be deliberating on this case. So, it’s unclear when the second trial will begin. It’s looking like it might be in January.
And then, on March 5th of next year, all the way through October of next year, are all the remaining trials. And starting in May, there’s a trial scheduled for every single week. But the judge has indicated that her rotation, her job assignment, is switching from criminal court to family court as of January 2nd, so there will be a new judge or judges beginning in 2018.
AMY GOODMAN: Why do you see this case as so significant for free speech in the United States?
JUDE ORTIZ: So, on January 20th, the police rounded up everyone who they can get a hold of in this vicinity. The police commander who testified at the beginning of the trial, or towards the beginning of trial, was very clear, both in his testimony as well as recordings from the police radio, that they were interested in the protest — it was an anti-fascist, anti-capitalist march — and they responded to that kind of preemptively by having around a hundred riot cops and their like lieutenants and sergeants, whatnot, there at Logan Circle, where the protest was scheduled to depart from and begin.
And that commander said that rather than doing what is typical in DC, where they do rolling road closures to facilitate the exercise of free speech, instead they showed up with numerous vans full of riot police, and then they followed the march and began, pretty much immediately, to start to crack down on the march.
That commander repeatedly used the word “anarchist” to describe everybody who was there. And that officer — or, that commander and other officers talked about everybody being like one group with nefarious intent.
So, from the outset, because of the alleged politics of the march and of the people who were there, the police responded in this very heavy-handed manner that culminated in them rounding everybody up and mass-arresting people. And the prosecutor has continued that by going forward with these charges against everyone.
So, when that is the kind of method of operations, for the police going hand in hand with the prosecutor, that sends a very chilling message to anybody who’s interested in going out in the streets and voicing dissent, especially dissent to Trump, dissent to the rise of fascism, dissent to white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, like all these other like very devastating systems of oppression.
AMY GOODMAN: Jude, Assistant U.S. Attorney Qureshi, the second-ranking prosecutor, who made closing arguments, said, in those arguments, a street medic was guilty by being present, and asked, “What do you need a medic with gauze for? She was aiding and abetting the riot. That was her role,” Qureshi said. Respond to that.
JUDE ORTIZ: So, that’s an entirely ludicrous claim. Medics have been at protests across the country for decades to be able to provide first aid type of care to people who are injured in various ways.
One of the most notable ways people get injured at protests, as your listeners and viewers know, is by actions from the police. On January 20th, there was a massive amount of pepper spray deployed by police on people, sometimes directly in the face, sometimes on the side or from behind. And we saw this in trial through body cam — body-worn camera videos.
There’s also a lot of body-worn camera videos of police knocking people down from behind with their batons. One of the officers who testified ran his bike directly into a protester. And so, there’s all these different ways that the people who are out there like in the streets can get injured very easily.
There’s also the elements to deal with. In January, it was very cold, for the January 20th inauguration protest. Lots of different reasons why you’d have medics there in order to like render aid to people who get injured.
That prosecutor said that the supplies that were there kind of show that the medics, in general, were kind of like prepared for war, which is a — it’s as insulting as it is ludicrous to say that people who were out there in the streets were prepared for war, especially when you saw the Department of Homeland Security helicopter video showing all the police operations that were happening there on Inauguration Day, how the police took this like paramilitary approach, that was also supported by the National Guard in order to like corral people and use chemical and projectile weapons against people. So, if there was any kind of warlike conditions, that was coming from the police and from the government, and not from people who were there to render aid.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about some of the videos submitted as evidence in this case by federal prosecutors. This includes video by the Canadian YouTuber Lauren Southern, who the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as, quote, “tiptoe[ing] at the precipice of outright white nationalism.” Southern was there on January 20th, Inauguration Day, and was kettled during the protest, but was allowed to leave without being arrested.
Prosecutors also submitted video evidence from the right-wing militia group Oath Keepers, who infiltrated protest planning meetings and secretly recorded them. Prosecutors also presented video from the discredited far-right group Project Veritas, just one day after The Washington Post reported Project Veritas had tried to dupe them with a false story of sexual misconduct by a woman undercover pretending to be a victim of Roy Moore. Go into this and why this matters, Jude Ortiz.
JUDE ORTIZ: It’s appalling to see so much of the state’s — the prosecution’s case and their so-called like evidence coming from overtly far-right sources. So, the Project Veritas video that you mention, it did come out in the courtroom as like a main piece of evidence, exactly like one day after that story broke. And one would think that that would kind of discredit or like cast into doubt like the kind of truthfulness or the usefulness of that evidence.
The prosecutor and the police officer who was testifying about it gave no indication that the source of it was at all even a question mark or some cause of concern. The state, through various witnesses, the detectives who like testified about the video and whatnot, admitted that they did no kind of forensic investigation or examination of the tape to make sure that it wasn’t doctored in some way.
Project Veritas, of course, is notorious for doctoring in the editing of their videos. And they were presented to the jury as one of their main pieces of evidence, and especially with the idea of conspiracy.
And so, when so much of the so-called evidence against these defendants and the defendants at large depends on this kind of so-called like investigative work of far-right actors, it really shows how the state itself, but with their police investigators, undercover cops infiltrating political protest planning meetings, the undercover and plainclothes police who were present on the march and like in the streets that day — all of these different like state actors were not able to find the evidence that would substantiate the charges the prosecutor has been so ferociously pursuing, and so they have to supplement that and really kind of create the evidentiary base through drawing on the far right.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the main detective working full time on the J20 case, Greggory Pemberton. On Inauguration Day, January 20th, he tweeted DC police officers used a, quote, “inspiring amount of restraint” and showed “professionalism.”
Last November, he also tweeted about, quote, “disingenuous ‘activists’ who peddle lies and falsehood.” During the J20 trial, defense lawyers played this clip of an interview Pemberton gave to the far-right media outlet One America News Network, praising President Trump.
GREGGORY PEMBERTON: He certainly has a message of law and order, and he really is appealing to a lot of police officers. â€¦ Police officers want to hear that someone is going to come in and not allow this divisive, vitriolic rhetoric of this false narrative that all police officers are inherently criminal racists that are out here committing crimes against the citizens, and that they’re going to come in and put a stop to that.
AMY GOODMAN: Jude Ortiz, as we wrap up, can you respond to the significance of his involvement with the case and what he’s saying here?
JUDE ORTIZ: Yes. The detective, Pemberton, has claimed that he has looked through hundreds of hours of videos, hundreds of times, since January 21st. It’s been his full-time job, his only assignment.
He was able, through that review, to present various compilation boards of photographs, as well as videos and PowerPoints, to give to the jury for their deliberations, that claims to have documentation of the location of each of the defendants all throughout the march, and presenting this as if that’s something that, like, being present like in the streets is a sign of guilt and is evidence of guilt of all these charges.
So it’s a tremendous amount of work that is like put in for these like very politically motivated way — or, reasons. And those political motivations are pretty clear when you look at his Twitter feed, with all of the far-right and pro-Trump things that he has promoted, like through retweets and through likes and through his own comments on Twitter. He claimed on the stand that that was only in the kind of exercise of his position as a board member of the police union.
But whether that’s true or whether it’s his own personal opinions, those opinions that are put forward are very much in favor of like right-wing causes and very much against liberal or progressive, like radical-left causes and movements.
And he’s even done very inflammatory and insulting things, like saying “black lies matter” — L-I-E-S — instead of “Black Lives Matter,” and discounting that entire movement, that has been so prominent in responding to police violence and brutality across the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, shortly after winning the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump tweeted his thoughts on dissent. He tweeted, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” Your final comment, Jude Ortiz?
JUDE ORTIZ: I think comments like that show the kind of concerted effort and nature of repression of social movements in the United States. I want to clarify that: I mean like left social movements. The right social movements, that have become more prominent and public under Trump, have been facilitated by the state.
We’re seeing that in places like Charlottesville. We’re seeing that in places like St. Louis and all across the country. People need to recognize like how things are shifting, and be ready to be out in resistance, to dissent and to not be scared away. And this case is a very important part of that.
AMY GOODMAN: Jude Ortiz, I want to thank you for being with us, member of the organizing crew of Defend J20 and the Mass Defense Committee chair for the National Lawyers Guild. He’s been in court throughout this first J20 trial. And we’ll keep you updated on this and other trials as they go on.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the movement to impeach President Trump, where does it stand, from Congress to counties, cities, towns across the United States? Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Blood and Roses” by The Smithereens. The lead singer, Pat DiNizio, died on Tuesday at the age of 62. And a shout-out to the classes that are visiting Democracy Now! today for today’s broadcast: Brooklyn Prep High School and Asian American Writers’ Workshop.
Inside The Trial That Could Determine
The Future Of Free Speech In America’s Capital
Trump inauguration demonstrators are facing
severe felony charges that critics say threaten
to chill future protests in Washington, DC
The Huffington Post
WASHINGTON (December 10, 2017) — Justice Department prosecutor Jennifer Kerkhoff carried the cardboard evidence box past the jury and placed it next to Officer Andre Reid, the 14-year veteran of the DC Metropolitan Police Department seated in the witness stand.
Snapping on blue medical gloves inside this downtown courtroom, she took out a JanSport backpack — the government’s exhibit number 43 — and began removing its contents: two sharpies, a pencil, a pen, a Florida driver’s license, green goggles, a black bandana, black gloves, sunglasses, an energy drink, a phone charger with a cord, and a black hat.
As jurors looked on, Kerkhoff and Reid examined a mask. “Have you ever heard of the term ‘balaclava’?” Kerkhoff asked? Reid hadn’t. He called it a ski mask. They took a look at a plastic bag containing two bandanas soaked in some mysterious “solution” that had a smell to it. “Can you smell that now?” Kerkhoff asked. Reid could.
The JanSport in question belongs to Michelle Macchio, a 26-year-old from Naples who hasn’t had possession of the bag or its contents in nearly 11 months, ever since she was caught up in a mass arrest during a protest just before President Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.
Macchio said she was acting as a medic that day. Video shows her with red tape in the shape of a cross on her jacket, and her lawyers say she was carrying a first aid kit. That mysterious foul-smelling solution? Vinegar, which is supposed to dilute the impact of the pepper spray that videos demonstrate police officers shot with abandon that morning.
In the past three weeks, as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has increasingly jeopardized the Trump presidency’s future, Macchio and her co-defendants are facing down their own. Macchio is one of six individuals currently on trial in the nation’s capital, facing felony charges that could potentially land them in federal prison for decades, or at the very least leave them with felony convictions that would stunt their career prospects and deprive them of certain rights.
Another 181 individuals are facing felony trials in the coming year, though the ultimate resolution of a large number of those cases could depend on how this first trial plays out. Twenty other defendants arrested that day have already pleaded guilty, but just one defendant pleaded guilty to a felony. Seven others facing misdemeanors are scheduled for a trial by judge.
The charges all stem from a mass arrest conducted by police in downtown DC aimed at a group of marchers that included anti-capitalists, anti-fascists and anarchists under the umbrella of an organization called DisruptJ20.
Police had kept an eye on what demonstrators had planned that day, sending an undercover officer into a planning meeting where an organizer said their goal was to “make inauguration a giant clusterfuck.”
Things quickly got out of control once the group left their gathering point in Logan Circle, with individuals from within the group of mostly black-clad demonstrators breaking store windows, throwing newspaper boxes, spray-painting cars, smashing parking meters and hurling rocks at officers.
How precisely to define the group has been an issue in court, where prosecutors and defense attorneys have sparred outside of the presence of the jury over the use and definition of the term “antifa.”
Ultimately, Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz told jurors that “antifa is short for anti-fascist or anti-fascism” and that the term was “not as an indication that individuals themselves intended violence.” Under threat from the judge, prosecutors and witnesses have also had to avoid the use of the term “black bloc,” a reference to a protest tactic intended to anonymize individuals within the group.
But in her opening statement in the trial on Nov. 20, Kerkhoff repeatedly referred to a “sea of black masks” that caused destruction that day. The possession or wearing of black clothing has become a central aspect of the prosecution’s case.
During one day of the trial, she held up a skull cap featuring an image of a skull that was seized from defendant Christina Simmons, a 20-year-old from Maryland who offered snacks from her backpack to officers who processed her, according to her defense attorney.
Jurors have heard from numerous business owners and employees who had their property damaged by members of the group that day. They’ve also heard from numerous police officers about the chaos they encountered, including an officer injured as he tried to apprehend an individual who threw a patio chair at his colleague.
What jurors haven’t heard, and prosecutors don’t intend to offer, is evidence that any of the six individuals currently on trial — Macchio, Simmons, Jennifer Armento, Oliver Harris, Brittne Lawson and Alexei Wood — actually engaged in any property damage or violence. Under the government’s theory of the case, in which anyone arrested in the group is part of a conspiracy and is responsible for any actions taken by others, the lack of individualized wrongdoing doesn’t matter.
Prosecutors have charged all six with eight charges, including six felonies. If convicted, they’d be exposed to a potential maximum sentence of more than 60 years in federal prison (though such an extreme sentence is extraordinarily unlikely).
“Each of them made a choice, and each of them played a role,” Kerkhoff told jurors in her opening statement. “You don’t personally have to be the one who breaks the window to be guilty of rioting.”
Kerkhoff, who is leading the prosecution, works for the US Attorney for the District of Columbia, one of 94 US attorney’s offices within the Justice Department. The US attorney’s office in the nation’s capital is unique in that it prosecutes both federal crimes and local crimes that would normally be handled by a local prosecutor, who are typically elected.
The office in DC is currently headed by a Trump appointee named Jessie Liu, though the cases unfolded until September under former acting US Attorney Channing Phillips, a holdover from the Obama administration who is close with former Attorney General Eric Holder.
At the moment, there’s no way to ascribe the handling of these prosecutions to Trump political appointees with any degree of certainty. But it’s certainly worth considering that Trump, who branded himself as the law-and-order candidate, had vowed to “end” the “anti-police atmosphere” in America and has made his feelings about protesters on the left well known.
The White House website, updated on the day of the inauguration, says the Trump administration would not “make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter.” More recently, after the deadly August attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, during a white supremacist rally, the president has talked about the “advent of antifa” and compared the loosely-organized anti-fascist movement to actual neo-Nazis.
The Trump administration’s charging policy could have also had an impact on the handling of the cases. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has spoken out about his belief that free speech is under attack on college campuses, ordered federal prosecutors in May to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” possible.
Kerkhoff and her colleague, Assistant US Attorney Rizwan Qureshi, have presented jurors with a plethora of evidence from Jan. 20: surveillance videos, aerial footage, body cam video, data from all of the cellphones they seized, and even a livestream of the entire march that was shot by Wood, photographer among the defendants.
Over and over again, jurors have seen individuals clad in black destroying property during the march. In lengthy and at times tedious presentations, they’ve used videos, screenshots, maps and PowerPoint presentations to prove that the defendants were, in fact, present at the march. The not-so-implicit message to the jury: Someone needed to be held accountable for the damage inflicted that day.
The backdrop of the aggressive charges against so many demonstrators is that law enforcement officials in DC, home to frequent protests due to its status as the nation’s capital, have taken a relatively progressive approach to policing demonstrations in recent years following lawsuits over their past conduct.
Ahead of the inauguration, demonstration organizers discussed their perceptions of the restrictions on police, with one podcast played for jurors referring to DC police as “trained little piggies” who had been sued into a “state of fear.”
The District of Columbia does have rules that officers are supposed to follow when policing a First Amendment demonstration, and defense attorneys have zeroed in on the inconsistencies between what police are supposed to do and what they actually did.
Did they issue a warning to disperse, as required? “We didn’t give any dispersal orders,” testified Commander Keith Deville. “We weren’t required to tell them, ‘stop rioting.'”
Deville, who oversaw the law enforcement response to downtown demonstrations on Jan. 20, testified that he believed Metropolitan Police Department officers showed “enormous restraint” in their handling of the demonstrations. But defense attorneys played a number of clips that appeared to show officers casually deploying pepper spray, even on individuals who had their backs turned to the officers and were walking away.
They also played clips that showed officers roughly handling individuals who weren’t engaged in any wrongdoing, including video that showed a legal observer getting blindsided with a shove from behind.
In one instance, Deville testified he couldn’t say why an officer shoved a woman with a baton from behind, but said the technique was proper. “There were two hands on it,” he said. “They weren’t bludgeoning somebody.”
In another instance, he said he was “not sure what that deployment was for” when confronted with a video of an officer casually spraying people. “I don’t know what their intention was,” Deville said about another clip that appeared to show improper use of pepper spray.
Among DC elected officials, questions about how police handled the demonstrations has been a matter of controversy. The DC City Council has budgeted $150,000 to investigate how police dealt with the unrest that day. There’s also an outstanding ACLU lawsuit, and Deville admitted that he believes “criminal convictions in this case would perhaps limit our civil liability in the matter.”
In a separate tense exchange, a defense attorney questioned Deville about past allegations that he had displayed bias toward some minority groups.
Deville admitted repeating a conversation he once had with another officer about the Holocaust Museum road being named after Raoul Wallenberg, who has been credited with saving the lives of tens of thousands of Jews during the Nazi occupation of Hungary.
The other officer had referred to Wallenberg as “the one that got away,” a comment Deville apparently repeated over the years. He called it a “very morose comment.” But Deville testified that he was not biased against Jewish people.
Deville also denied that he was biased against gay people despite allegedly once warning his colleagues to watch what they said when a gay officer joined their unit. And Deville further said that he was not biased against transgender people, despite once complaining that he had to call a transgender women he’d worked with for four years “Jessica” instead of “Bill.”
At the time, Deville said, he “was still trying get my head around the change,” but he was not complaining that he had to call her Jessica. He was disciplined by the department for the comment.
The prosecution is expected to wrap up their case on Monday, and the defense will likely take over the rest of the week. The jury may begin deliberations sometime next week.
Even if none of these six defendants are convicted, the legal process on its own will still have proven to be a significant form of punishment, with the defendants from various parts of the country essentially moving to DC for the duration of the trial.
While the defendants have, for the most part, been reluctant to speak with the handful of reporters who have sporadically covered the trial over the past few weeks, Elizabeth Lagesse was willing to chat. Sitting in a courtroom taking careful, copious notes, it’d be easy to mistake her for a reporter. But Lagesse is actually a co-defendant, facing her own trial in July with a separate group of individuals on several felony charges in connection with her own Inauguration Day arrest.
Lagesse, a former John Hopkins University graduate student who had been planning to move to California and pursue work in the tech sector, said her life has essentially been put on hold as she fights off felony charges that could jeopardize her future. She and her fiancÃ©, who was also arrested that day, have moved to DC to defray the cost of traveling back and forth from Baltimore for hearings. They’ve been living on his salary alone, not necessarily an easy feat in the city, and are now committed to a year lease.
Prosecutors still have the cell phone they seized from her that day.
“We finally saved up and ordered a new phone,” Lagesse said. “But he’s been using like a broken, not that great phone. I got one awhile back that, you know, works. It has been a really big burden. We’ve had to coordinate, like, whose phone works today?” She says prosecutors were not able to get anything off of either of their phones because they were encrypted iPhones.
Lagesse, who wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about her experience and is part of an ACLU lawsuit against DC police over their conduct that day, says Jan. 20 was the first time she’d ever been arrested. This is also the first time she’s spent significant time inside a courtroom.
She called the process “incredibly frustrating” and scary. “One person makes a decision, and it can disrupt 200 people’s lives for more than a year. It just seems nuts,” Lagesse said.
But it’s also been kind of fascinating for her.
“Lawyers have told me that they never get to hear the whole case before they start a trial, so it’s kind of an amazing opportunity. You get to watch a do-over trial,” Lagesse said. “It just proves I can nerd out about anything.”
Lagesse, who grew up in a conservative family living in northern California, said her family of Trump supporters had a tough time accepting that she was actually facing several felony charges.
“It’s hard for a lot of people to believe that this is actually happening, because it is insane. I get that a lot,” Lagesse said. “This is happening. It’s every bit as crazy as it looks. No, it’s not just going to go away.”
The partner of defendant Brittne Lawson, a 27-year-old nurse from Pittsburgh, told HuffPost that she had to quit her job because there was no way to adjust her schedule to accommodate a trial that will likely stretch on for more than a month. “The trial is for sure longer than all of Brit’s potential vacation time for the whole year,” Lawson’s partner, who requested to be identified only by his first name of Jeff, said. “This is a full-time job.”
Lawson has been able to get housing in Washington during the trial though the Dead City Legal Posse, an organization formed to support the defendants shortly after their mass arrest.
“Frankly, when you’re going through something really stressful like this, you want a quiet space that is your own, that feels safe,” Jeff said. “And instead you’re like sleeping on somebody’s couch.”
Jeff said he believes that people from across the political spectrum should be able to recognize the threat of the aggressive prosecution, but said that even some members of their extended families had bought into the idea of cracking down on protests.
“You see the divisions within the US, where there’s some people in our extended family who are like, ‘Oh, you should be in jail forever for someone else in a protest you were at breaking windows,'” Jeff said.
Defense attorneys will be calling several witnesses this week, and several of the defendants may take the stand in their own defense. Wood, the photographer on trial, will likely explain to the jury why he had a press pass in another individual’s name.
The six defendants’ attorneys, who outnumber the actual jury, will likely also raise First Amendment concerns and say that police made no effort to differentiate between those who were exercising their rights and those who were causing destruction.
Steven McCool, who is representing defendant Harris, told the judge outside of the presence of the jury last week that he’d be requesting a jury instruction on the First Amendment. What kind of jury instruction, Judge Lynn Leibovitz wondered, one that said we “like it a lot?”
“I wish we liked it more,” replied McCool, a former federal prosecutor. “Apparently we don’t.”
Ryan Reilly is HuffPost’s senior justice reporter, covering criminal justice, federal law enforcement and legal affairs.
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