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Bloomfield Queer Rally: at the hearings

Im sitting in the court room waiting for the hearings to start for the 5 people arrested at the B I’ll be taking notes and blogging as the afternoon goes on.. I’ve never been here before and most everything police related that is post-arrest is something I am clueless about. I understand there will be a lot of cases today, and they most often do the easy ones first. I’m sitting in the very first row. I’m told that at times things can be said that may be hard to hear if I were to sit farther back, so I’m as close as I can be. The room is full and I’m sure that many of the folks here are present specifically for the 5 arrested on Wednesday.
I didn’t really take notes during the hearings as I expected. I sat with Hugh McGough, who will himself be a judge and Beth Pittinger who is with the Citizen Police Review Board. They are watching these cases closely, however, I understand they haven’t received a signed statement yet, just preliminary complaints. She told me how to file my own complaint. It simply takes writing up what happened and having it notarized, so by the end of the week, my complaint will be filed with them. Here is the link for the CPRB.

I also met David Japenga’s attorney who is really something. If I were in trouble, he is exactly the attorney I would want on my side. He was unhappy because Japenga was being treated differently than the others who were arrested, and I agree, it is totally unfair: people who were doing the same thing should be treated the same. More about David Japenga later.

I expected a court like on Perry Mason, but this wasn’t really like that at all. At times there was just the judge, the defendant, their attorney, and the arresting police officer. Very little would be said, and then it was on to the next case. There were a few cases where the lawyer would try and lay out a case and more would be said.
The 5 who were arrested were all held to the end, which left me wondering what made these seem harder than the earlier cases. Except for Japenga, they all were quite similar to the early cases, where the defendant approached the bench, very little was said and then on to the next one.

I was especially interested in seeing who the 5 arrested were: I had only watched one of the arrests. I wondered if any of the 5 were among the angry qeers who had been resistant to leave Liberty Ave. None were.

There were huge differences between the charges and the way the police were handling Japenga and the other 4. This is something worth watching as the question remains; if people do the same thing, shouldn’t they be treated the same? Other than Japenga the 4 cases were postponed with the option to do 50 hours community service and have the charges expunged from their record. I heard 2 conflicting things about this. Japenga’s attorney told me that the expungement meant nothing would remain on their records. One of the persons however told me they would be left with a disorderly conduct charge.

All were charged with failure to disperse and obstruction of highways and other public passages. One was charged with resisting arrest, and this was the arrest I had witnessed. He did in no way resist! Based on what I saw presented, I don’t think any of the 5 should have been arrested.

In the last year, I’ve been learning more and more about how our community interacts with the police and the policies, procedures and issues that impede an improvement of the relationship between the two. This began with Verucca’s incident in the Spring of 2010, but I really dug in after the gay bashing in Highland Park. In that case, there were 2 elements which greatly added to the problem, and I worked with Patrick Dowd and the Zone 5 commander on those. These were ways the 911 and police policies made it difficult for members of the LGBT community. This situation sheds light on a whole new set of issues to be looked at, and changes demanded.

Meeting Japenga’s lawyer and listening to the case against Japenga was amazing and while his intention was to get as much as he could for Japenga, I saw his efforts as going beyond that and helping the larger community understand what happened. While some have accused me of having a pro-police agenda, I believe I have sought to express the truth as I saw it, speaking soley from my own experience. My goal had been to make sure there is as truthful a representation as there can be. I valued Japenga’s lawyer for adding more information to that picture.

The officer who is listed as the arresting officer did an interesting thing. So many of the police there, were dressed casually and not in uniform. Dee in, the arresting officer was as well, but when he went up for the case, he had changed into his police shirt. I didn’t see any of the other officers do this. While he is listed as the arresting officer on all of the 5 arrests, he is NOT the officer I saw arrest the one person. Officer Edwards was the guy who grabbed him, slammed him onto the cruise and handcuffed him. Why wasn’t Edwards the arresting officer for that one? How is it that one officer can do an arrest but another be credited for it? Was there some reason why Edward’s name couldn’t be on the arrest?

Through some hard work, the lawyer got 2 of the charges against Japenga dropped, but 2 remained. The failure to disperse charge rests on the question of if the police gave a command to disperse on Friendship Ave because the police have no witness to place Japenga on Liberty Ave. The police’s written report doesn’t include anything about there being a call to disperse on Friendship, but the officer claimed that it had happened and he had simply forgot to include that in the report. I know I never heard a command to disperse, and there was a room full of others who were ready to testify that there had been no such command. But there was some technicality about the type of hearing it was such that the credibility of the officer’s testimony could not be questioned. That can only happen at a full trial. I’m sure we will see that issue come up again.
The good news for Japenga is that there will be a trial, and this lawyer is very good. The bad news is that he awaits that trial in jail.

The arresting officer claimed that he wrote the report about 2 hours after the arrests. How is it that such an important element (a call to disperse) was left off of the report? Some will read this and blame the officer (which may be valid) but I think a larger issue exists. The police officers lack adequate management from the very highest levels, and across thew entire police department, there isn’t a push for thorough, detailed reporting. For this to be the norm, that expectation must come from the highest levels of the Police Department.

When I left the courtroom it wasn’t clear what the 4 would do, and the decision can’t be easy. On the one hand, some believe the officers have a very weak case against the 4, and if they have it go to trial, they could win. Especially with good lawyers such as from the ACLU. On the other hand, going to trial can be expensive, take time, and there is the chance they wouldn’t win.

Here’s the real issue: when the police go overboard and throw their power around, and use arrests as a way to intimidate a group of people, it not only does damage to the relationship between the police and that group, but harms the Police’s credibility overall. The Police have no easy job, yet one has to wonder if they make it harder than it has to be in some situations.