Judge Commends Denver Police for Restraint

     DENVER (CN) – Police showed “commendable restraint” while jury nullifiers shouted obscenities at them and tried to provoke violence outside a Denver courthouse, a federal judge ruled Thursday, refusing protesters’ demands to sanction the police chief.
     The dispute between the Fully Informed Jury Association and Denver police began in August, when two activists, Eric Verlo and Mark Iannicelli, were arrested for handing out jury nullification pamphlets to a juror outside Denver’s main criminal courthouse. They were charged with seven counts of jury tampering.
     The dispute flamed up on Aug. 26, the day after U.S. District Judge William Martinez issued an order allowing protesters to gather and hand out literature so long as they didn’t impede the flow of traffic or set up any structures.
     Chaos broke out in front of the Lindsey-Flannigan Denver County Courthouse when Denver police took tents and other items, including a “Fuck the Police” sign, from the protesters. Verlo claimed police took 1,000 jury nullification pamphlets, which were protected by the judge’s order.
     Verlo, Janet Matzen and their group asked Martinez to hold Denver Police Chief Robert White in contempt.
     But after reviewing evidence presented at a Tuesday hearing, including video surveillance and police tapes, Martinez found that police acted appropriately.
     Police officers told Martinez they thought the canopy the pamphleteers had erected was a prohibited structure. Police Lt. Mark Drajem told the protesters the structure had to be removed if they didn’t have a permit, and when it was clear they did not, he gave them 60 seconds to remove it. When they didn’t, police took it down themselves.
     “At this point, the demonstrators became extremely vocal toward the police, repeatedly shouting obscenities and, in the case of one individual, approaching officers closely and shouting in their faces in an apparent attempt to provoke some sort of violent response,” Martinez wrote in his Sept. 3 order. “Throughout this, the police demonstrated commendable restraint.”
     The officers said they took only items they believed to be prohibited, including banners and buckets, folding chairs, a canopy and a folding table. They told Martinez they set protesters’ personal items on the ground. Far from seizing the protesters’ pamphlets, one officer told the judge he took one of the protesters’ bullhorns and set it on the pamphlets so they wouldn’t fly away.
     “The entire incident lasted about eight minutes,” Martinez wrote. “Denver Police did not cite or arrest anyone on account of this incident.”
     Martinez pointed out that though police videos showed many protesters recording the incident as it unfolded, none of the protesters presented their videos as evidence.
     “The police and security camera videos reveal that nearly every demonstrator (including Verlo) and numerous bystanders were recording the incident with their cell phones or other devices,” Martinez wrote. “The court must assume that plaintiffs reviewed at least the videos they themselves created, and that plaintiffs would have submitted those videos if they showed the police seizing pamphlets. That plaintiffs did not do so strongly suggests that even their own video does not support their version of events.”
     Martinez dismissed protesters’ claims that police tried to intimidate and threaten them, finding the protesters “fail[ed] in their burden to present clear and convincing evidence of it.”
     “The problem for plaintiffs,” Martinez concluded, “is that they lack clear and convincing evidence to support this theory. Indeed, much of the evidence goes the other way.”
     Jury nullifiers believe jurors should be allowed to ignore judges’ jury instructions and issue verdicts as they see fit.
     Judge Martinez cited Jon Stewart in a final footnote.
     “A parting word on rhetoric: Plaintiffs describe the Denver police involved in this incident as ‘jack-booted thugs.’ ‘Jack-booted,’ of course, is often intended as an implied reference to totalitarianism, especially Nazi totalitarianism. Although plaintiffs naturally feel upset about the police’s actions, the Court commends to them the phrase popularized by former ‘Daily Show’ host Jon Stewart: ‘I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.'” (Citation omitted.)

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