Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Rotunda 13 case, the trial of the Magnificent 6

Hey there folks I just got back from the Dane County Courthouse and here to fill you in on how things progressed throughout the trial.  For those of you who don't remember last year on August 25th Wisconsinites across the state felt the first (but not necessarily the last) bite taken out of they re paychecks.

Two rallies were held that day in Madison, the first at noon that began on the library mall at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and marched up State St. to the Capitol.  The second rally of the day was larger and began at 5p.m. at the Capitol.  Speakers spoke and the chants echoed around the capitol square.  Then folks decided to march through the Capitol building and/or peacefully assemble in there and continue the political discourse.

And that is what happened, the capitol which normally closes at 6 p.m. when the legislature is not in session, remained open beyond normal hours.  At around 6:30 or so announcement attempts began for people to disperse as the capitol was closing for the day.  Most of the people began to make they're way out of the building.  Some folks felt that they had more to discuss, here in the one place where a citizen should be able to finally discuss matters with one's elected official.

They also felt that they had constitutional rights to assemble and of free speech, and that these inalienable rights supersedes any state or municipal ordinance.  They remained at the capitol, in the center of the rotunda to continue with protest and discussion on political matters that began with the rally that had brought them here.  Head of Capitol Police & Security, Chief Charles Tubbs began to request of these people to please leave the capitol per his concept of 'voluntary compliance.'

Protesters stated that they 'politely and respectfully' feel that there is no existing legal compulsion for them to leave the building and that any attempt to force them would be an infringement of they're constitutional rights of speech and assembly.

The police under the leadership of Chief Tubbs disagreed and informed the protesters, now down to thirteen in number, of such and that if they didn't leave they would be taken into custody.  Which is what then began to take place.  Those taken into custody, well six of them anyway, were having their day in court today and I was with them in solidarity.

I arrived at courtroom 7D at 8:25 with trial proceedings set to begin five minutes later.  Defense attorney Nichols and her assistant counsel, along with Mr. Freedman from the District Attorneys office were already in discussion with the judge.  They were defining the limit and scope of the questioning of witness's and the judge offered the opinion to the defense that there was no defense.  He stated that in his opinion a violation of code or law had occurred and that was the final word, no reasonable defense was possible.  Good thing this was a jury trial or things would have been starting off very badly indeed.

Defense atty Nichols had stated into the record that the video that both sides agreed to view in court, had discrepancies between the original audio recording and what was transcribed and would be given to the jury.  The judge agreed to cover this and explain it to the jury when it was time to introduce and view that piece of evidence.  There was some discussion on limiting the amount of time that would be allowed discussing the issue of 'necessary force' and then after a final statement from the judge alluding to 'closing time of a public building is indisputable' the jury was brought into the courtroom.

After opening statements and instructions to the jury from the judge, opening statements were made.  Freedman from the DA's office began, he spoke of:  'our nation and our state are in a time of conflict and disruption' and that 'Walker our governor created this divide'  He then said that 'the rule of law unites' and he relearned this while he was at a capitol rally at 'our house-the capitol, all of our house, not just a few who feel they are above the law'

He went on stating that 'Chief Tubbs and his policy of "voluntary compliance" have worked as hundreds of thousands of protesters filled the Capitol'  He stated that Chief Tubbs had "begged and pleaded" with the protesters asking them "please, please, pretty please" to leave the building.  He seemed honestly enraptured by Chief Tubbs and I was starting to wonder if a spring wedding may be planned.

Nichols for the defense spoke next, she said that this trial was not about "how nice a person Charles Tubbs is" it was about doing what was right.  It was about how the defendants perceived themselves at that place and time. She mentioned that the very design of the Capitol was for the purpose of public speaking and addressing the government.  She described a time of "great sadness and great enthusiasm."

Opening statements concluded the exploration phase of the trial began.  Freedman began by calling his one and only witness Chief Charles Tubbs.  He began by questioning the chief about his background and history, his decision to become a peace officer.  We heard about the chief growing up poor in Beloit, WI.  How as a child he wanted to be either a "cop, a clergyman or a pro-athlete"  Cute story and I have heard Chief Tubbs tell it before.

He went on to state that as a young black man living in Beloit in 1972, he remembers a white officer being shot and killed by a black man.  He remembered the way the investigating officers treated the African-American community in looking for the shooter.  That he remembers being pulled over in college, the white folks in the car treated well by police while he and a friend received much different treatment.  He spoke of how he wanted to create a positive change in police culture from within.  He spoke of his policy of "voluntary compliance" rather than immediately resorting to putting hands on people.

It painted a pretty impressive picture of the head of Capitol Police & Security.  And it was a standard tactic in a trial such as this one.  And then the line of questioning changed as the chief was asked direct questions about the events of August 25th of 2011.  He recounted that he had bent over backwards to pacify the protesters during a time of divisive political climate.  He stated that he had begged and cajoled the protesters to leave and was treated with harsh words and disrespect for his efforts and finally had to do his job and clear the building for the sake of the cleaning crews.

On cross examination Nichols asked Chief Tubbs about the six defendants in the courtroom.  Chief acknowledged that he knows them now and indeed knew five of the six before the date in question.  There were questions about the permitting of the rally and as to whether or not the chief was aware of who was protected by that permit and who was not.  She began to ask about tactics used by officers and tactics used by the protesters who had been trained by the ACLU and Veterans for Peace workshops.

 I believe it was at this point that the DA objected as Nichols began to mention the training in peaceful non-resistance training the defendants had taken.  The objection was to whether or not that training was relevant to the case.  The attorneys approached the bench and after a brief discussion, with the court room flooded with the sound of white noise, they began again.

And Nichols first question was on the subject of non-violent methods employed by the defendants.  Score one victory for the good folks.  A audio recording of the standard closing time statement broadcast at the Capitol followed.  And that wrapped up the first segment of the trial and we were given a twenty minute break.

We arrived back in the courtroom with the jury not yet returned.  The judge was addressing the courtroom about the rules for media coverage of the trial.  There had been people covering the trial from the beginning in the media room without issue.  The matter had come up after a representative from the extreme right wing political group that operates as a charity, the McIver Institute, arrived to cover things.

We stood as the jury was brought back into the courtroom and after some instructions for them from the judge, then the video of the arrests of August 25th was played.  Fifty four minutes long and covering the entirety of the Rotunda 13 being asked by Chief Tubbs to disperse, the polite replies on constitutional grounds and the subsequent removal of them by a combination of Capitol Police & Security officers as well as Wisconsin State Troopers.

I had seen this footage before as had most people in the filled up courtroom.  Many of us who were able to be there today in solidarity with the defendants had been at the rally that day.  I remember that day, I had left the building with the bulk of folks and did not know that the 13 were inside until after the Capitol doors had been locked.

At this time the 13 were inside, along with all the officers, the cleaning staff and the media, who had been allowed to remain to cover the protesters.  That was the statement of Chief Tubbs.  The state rested its case after the footage was shown to the jury and we broke for lunch.  I had just enough time to grab a sandwich on my way to the Capitol for the Solidarity Singalong.  On the State St. corner of the square though I had to stand and witness 1,000+ women who were rallying against the right wing attack on women's rights.  Then inside to the Singalong going on as strong as ever, and once again led by Chris Reeder who had taken some time off for the birth of his first child.

And then back to courtroom 7D for testimony from the six defendants.  Thi was first on the stand and she told of her non-violence training and devotion to non-violent resolution.  The DA then again objected to the use of inclusion of peaceful tactics training and an approach followed.  More white noise and then Thi continued to speak of passivity and non-violence.

She was cross examined and was the recipient of some slightly demeaning language from Freedman.  She was strong though and his questions turned to the small talk that was shared between the protesters just before they were taken into custody one by one.  He tried to get her to claim that nobody had any relevant message for they're government officials but it never happened.

Damon spoke next and delivered some well spoken and timely quotes including "Our system is broken" and in reference to a request, not a demand, to leave the building that he "did not take it to be a lawful demand"  The lack of reply to this under cross spoke well for the six on trial.

Jenna was next on the stand and I loved how she relayed that Chief Tubbs had held the door open for her at 5:55 and welcomed her and others into the Capitol. Jenna explained why the protesters were singing the theme to the old television show 'batman' as she was carried off.  The jury seemed to find it cute that her nickname was 'batman' and that she even wore the costume to the rallies sometimes.  She was not cross examined.

Jeremy was next on the stand and the guy from McIver was practically foaming at the mouth.  He was obviously very excited and that this was the one person he really came to cover today.  Jeremy explained that he was the first to be removed he believed, because he was the one protester to have a video camera and was recording the events.  On cross examination a video that Jeremy had shot of that night covering the 1,000 or so protesters in the building at 6:30 to his ultimate arrest was shown.  Jeremy was then questioned about such things the banter between the protesters just before they were taken into custody.

Jeremy did a great job of explaining that the people had come to the Capitol with a message and a need for civil discourse on political matters that was not finished.  That the will of the people as protected by the constitution trumped any building and facilities code.  That the small talk prior to arrest was comrades in arm speaking and encouraging each other prior to arrest and in no way negated the message of the people to they're legislator's or the need for further discourse.

CJ was next on the witness stand and spoke very well of matters of 'unlawful demand' and of his experiences at the capitol and his devotion to peaceful and passive resistance.  All six were asked if they in any way 'fought, twisted, kicked, hit, bit, or swore at officers?'  They all replied without hesitation, no!

Last on the stand was Alex, who told of being simultaneously choked and having his wrist bent to force him into movement after he had gone limp and was not resisting the State Troopers.  He was briefly cross examined and stood his ground well.

And that wrapped up that part of the trial.  After a break we returned to the courtroom for closing statements.  The prosecution used levity to describe his experiences going to the Capitol to witness protests and that it was the only time he went to the Capitol without stopping at Genna's tavern.  He mentioned Mayor Paul Soglin and the great Madison tradition of civil disobedience which seemed counter productive to me.  He also brought up Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement.

He mentioned his own anger at the 'burecrats' he saw inside the windows of the Capitol building the night that Act 10 was passed, smoking "cigars lit with $100 bills"  Wow isn't this going to work against him I thought to myself?  The jury was pretty friendly seeming and I had been observing them closely all day.  Only one person seemed kind of angry or bored and possibly had already formed an early opinion on the trial.  I was happily surprised when this jurists name was drawn at random and became the "13" or alternate juror and was no longer needed.

Nichols then closed up her case by questioning Freedmans story of 'rock throwing' to a peaceful and civil discourse by good citizens within a publicly owned building exercising they're rights.  She stated that "the constitution does not close at six o clock!"  She spoke of bent rules and sliding time lines, of arbitrary enforcement by officers who may have a personal interest in individuals.  She said that 'Democracy is difficult!" and that the defendants were being difficult, not criminals.

The jury was then sent to deliberations and I am awaiting word.  The judge seems the type to me who will not easily accept a deadlocked jury which I think is likely.  There is also a fairly good chance that they will be found 'not guilty' of the one charge apiece.

I will update this as soon as I hear what has happened. Solidarity forever.

Please see below

On Wisconsin!    FORWARD!!!!

Just got the call, all six were found guilty on technical grounds.  I am told that they will appeal.

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