Roundup: Prosecutors drop charges against GOP convention protesters

Friday, December 8, 2000

Prosecutors dropped charges yesterday against 32 political activists
who were facing trial on misdemeanors stemming from protests during the
Republican National Convention after police could not recognize most of them
and could not link those they did recognize to any crimes. Assistant District
Attorney Joe LeBar withdrew the charges at the request of Municipal Court Judge
James M. DeLeon, who said “it was a pretty good police operation” except that
the troopers were unable to make post-arrest identification. The protesters
were among 75 people taken into custody following a raid on a West Philadelphia
warehouse where puppets were being made. Four state troopers who infiltrated
the warehouse have testified in pretrial hearings that activists spoke about
slashing tires on police cars, built devices to block intersections and planned
to deploy satirical puppets to blockade streets. On Dec. 6, the same four
troopers spent hours examining mug shots of 31 people arrested in the raid who
were facing trial this week. But defense lawyers who attended the lengthy
sessions at the offices of District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham said the troopers
couldn’t identify any as committing illegal acts. Troopers also were unable to
point out a single defendant who appeared in a lineup on Dec. 4. Next week, the
troopers are scheduled to examine mug shots for the remaining 30 defendants,
who are also charged with misdemeanors. Some of the original 75 defendants
agreed to a deal under which they were placed on three months probation and
fined. Last week, DeLeon rejected defense moves to toss out the cases on
grounds that the undercover officers, who infiltrated the group by pretending
to be sympathetic union carpenters, had acted improperly. DeLeon also ruled
that the raid was not prior restraint on free speech. Associated Press

Illinois: Agents again seize equipment from godfather of low-power

Federal agents last week shut down
Mbanna Kantako, considered by
many to be the godfather of the micropower radio movement, for the second time
in as many months. U.S. marshals raided Kantako’s Springfield, Ill., home on
Nov. 29 to seize his equipment. Kantako has been broadcasting his Human Rights
Radio consistently since he first fired up a transmitter at a Springfield
tenant home in 1987. The unlicensed station, featuring talk shows, speeches and
other programming on African-American issues, sparked hundreds of other
low-power enthusiasts to take to the air despite the risks of broadcasting
without a license. A Sept. 29 raid ended Kantako’s nearly 13 years of nearly
nonstop, unlicensed broadcasting. U.S. marshals and the Federal Communications
Commission say Kantako’s station at 106.5 FM emitted an errant signal at 121.3
megahertz that interfered with air-traffic communications. After an Oct. 4
hearing, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction barring Kantako from
further broadcasts. Sixteen days later, Kantako returned to the air. He says he
will begin broadcasting again despite the latest raid. Freedom Forum Online

Colorado: Denver changes abortion-protest law

The city has changed its “bubble law” restricting anti-abortion
demonstrations to settle a lawsuit challenging the law as a violation of
free-speech rights. The city’s law was more restrictive than a state law
barring abortion protesters from coming closer than 8 feet to an abortion
patient unless the patient walks toward or past the protesters. Denver’s law
required the protesters to move if the patient approached. A similar law was
overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997. With the change, Denver’s law
mirrors the state law, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in
June. Bernadette Cordova of Arvada sued in September, saying the city’s law
violated her First Amendment rights. She was arrested in May for violating the
ordinance while outside a Denver Planned Parenthood clinic. Cordova was
represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, which said the city has
dropped charges against Cordova and agreed to pay her $2,500 in attorneys’
fees. The center has dropped its lawsuit. Associated Press

Rhode Island: School reverses student’s suspension for journal

Johnston High School officials have agreed to reinstate a student
suspended amid concerns over his brooding journal writing. The American Civil
Liberties Union last month filed a lawsuit on behalf of Matthew Parent, who had
been excluded from classes since Oct. 27. Parent, a 17-year-old junior, was
sent home after submitting an English composition which school officials said
showed violent and suicidal tendencies. School officials wanted Parent to
undergo a psychological evaluation before returning to school. The lawsuit
claimed Parent’s suspension violated his free-speech and due-process rights.
The ACLU said Parent’s teacher gave the composition to a guidance counselor and
psychologist and none of the officials talked to him before deciding he was a
threat. A federal judge last month refused to order Parent’s readmission to
school, but ordered that an immediate hearing be held. The hearing was held
Dec. 5 and school officials agreed to reinstate Parent as of yesterday, the
ACLU said. Parent was sent home by school officials in January for a separate
incident involving a discussion with another student about the Columbine
massacre and was readmitted after a psychological evaluation. Associated

Virginia: Owner of PETA parody site appeals cybersquatting

The owner of a site satirizing People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals has appealed a federal judge’s ruling last summer that said
infringed on the trademark and domain name of the animal rights group. In June,
U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton
ordered Michael
Doughney to relinquish the domain name of his site to PETA. But the Virginia
federal judge declined to award the group $305,000 in attorney fees, saying
Doughney thought he had a legitimate First Amendment right to the name.
Doughney’s Web site, People Eating Tasty Animals, featured links and
information on the virtues of meat. The site touted itself as “a resource for
those who enjoy eating meat, wearing fur and leather, hunting and the fruits of
scientific research.” Hilton determined that Doughney’s site wasn’t true parody
because its content wasn’t “simultaneous” with that of PETA’s Web site. In his
appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Doughney’s attorneys wrote
that the site wasn’t intended to induce consumer confusion to support a
separate, commercial site, “but to set up the inherent conflict and dissonance
that is the very essence of well-executed parody.” Doughney’s attorneys also
said he hadn’t engaged in cybersquatting because he never sought payment from
PETA for the domain name and had secured the name in 1996, nearly four years
before Congress passed a law forbidding such an act. Freedom Forum Online

New Jersey: Judge limits use of cameras in death penalty trial of
cop killer

A judge has banned cameras from daily coverage of the upcoming trial
of a woman who admitted killing a Haddon Heights policeman and a Camden County
investigator during a 1995 confrontation at her home. State Superior Court
Judge Norman Telsey ruled Dec. 5 that television and newspaper cameras may be
present in the courtroom only for the verdict and sentencing of Leslie Ann
Nelson. No date has been set for the trial. In May 1997, a jury recommended a
death sentence for Nelson, a transsexual formerly known as Glenn Nelson, for
killing Patrolman John Norcross, 24. She was also sentenced to a life term for
killing prosecutor’s office Investigator John McLaughlin, 37. The state Supreme
Court in 1998 ordered a new death penalty trial, ruling that the prosecutors
improperly withheld evidence that could have affected the jury’s choice between
death and life in prison. The state appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme
Court, but the justices refused to reinstate the death sentence, clearing the
way for the new trial. Nelson’s murder conviction, which was not at issue,
still stands. Defense lawyers argued Dec. 5 that cameras should be banned from
the courtroom because their presence in the first trial intimidated Nelson,
interfering with her ability to concentrate, communicate with her lawyers and
that they caused her to change her demeanor before the jury. Bruce Rosen,
representing three Philadelphia area television stations, WTXF-TV, WPVI-TV, and
WCAU-TV, argued that cameras should be allowed in the courtroom for such a
high-profile case. Associated Press

Wisconsin: State to release details of sexual harassment complaint
against mayor

A complaint detailing sexual harassment allegations against Milwaukee
Mayor John Norquist will be released over the city’s objections, state
officials said Dec. 6. The Department of Workforce said in a statement that the
complaint filed by former Norquist aide Marilyn Figueroa with its Equal Rights
Division was covered by the state Open Records Law and will be released Dec.
18, unless a court blocks the release. The city objected to releasing the
complaint, arguing that the state should establish probable cause in the case
before releasing any allegations. But the state rejected those arguments,
establishing a two-week window for the city or any other party who objects to
the release to take up the issue in court. The Open Records Law, passed in
1981, generally presumes all government records are public, with some
exemptions, such as health-care records. Norquist publicly admitted Dec. 1 that
he had what he called a consensual sexual relationship with Figueroa, who left
her job last winter. He said the relationship ended a year ago. Her lawyer,
Victor Arellano, filed the complaint with the state Dec. 3. Milwaukee City
Attorney Grant Langley said the state shouldn’t release the detailed complaint
because the statute of limitations has run out. Associated Press

Rhode Island: Police release pepper spray policy to ACLU

The Providence Police have released documents outlining its policies
on the use of pepper spray, after the American Civil Liberties Union sued for
the information. The state ACLU chapter first requested the information in
August, after a burglary suspect subdued with pepper spray died in police
custody. The medical examiner later determined that the man died of a heart
attack caused by cocaine use, not the pepper spray. The police department
initially released some information that the ACLU found incomplete. An
open-records lawsuit was filed Dec. 4 in Superior Court. The ACLU said
yesterday the newly released documents include important details, such as a
policy telling officers to aim at the face, eyes, nose and mouth of targets.
The ACLU said it hopes the department complies more quickly with future
requests for public records. Associated Press

Pennsylvania: Amish man goes to jail for refusing display sign on

An Amish man chose to spend three days in jail rather than pay a fine
for refusing to put an orange “slow-moving vehicle” triangle on his buggy
because he said the sign violates his religious beliefs. Jonas Swartzentruber,
22, belongs to the 11-family Swartzentruber order, which says the Bible
prohibits brightly colored belongings. He was jailed Dec. 5 after a county
judge found him in contempt for not paying $119 from an April 15 citation. In
deference to his beliefs, Swartzentruber will be allowed to wear a blue shirt
and pants instead of the usual bright-orange coveralls, deputy warden John
Prebish told the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat. The sect members claim to be the
country’s oldest Amish order and strictly adhere to the Amish ideal of being
separate from society. Many Amish in Pennsylvania display the triangles without
protest. Most of the Swartzentruber moved to an area about 65 miles east of
Pittsburgh from eastern Ohio in recent years. The triangles are not required in
Ohio, and the Swartzentruber were persuaded to use dark reflective tape on
buggies there. Jonas Swartzentruber didn’t comment after the hearing.
Associated Press