Rocky Mountain News
Four parade cases tossed

City 1-for-6 on Columbus Day protest motions

By Charlie Brennan, Rocky Mountain News
January 8, 2005

Denver city prosecutors suffered a string of defeats Friday on cases brought against men and women arrested for protesting last year's Columbus Day parade.

Of the first six cases heard on pretrial motions Friday, four were dismissed for lack of probable cause and another defendant saw one of her two charges dropped. Only one of the six cases survived intact.

That didn't appear to bode well for the city's prospects in prosecuting others among the approximately 230 people arrested Oct. 9 for their attempt to block the Columbus Day celebration. The protesters say the annual fest honors a slave trader responsible for the genocide of 10 million American Indians.

"If this is the way the city wants to do it, we'll dismiss them one at a time," said Glenn Morris, a defendant and organizer of the protest. Morris was not among those whose cases were heard Friday.

At times, the hearing before Denver County Judge Aleene Ortiz-White verged into Keystone Kops territory.

One officer, told to look out into the crowded courtroom and identify defendant Victoria Nevarez 21, of Boulder, scanned the crowd and fingered instead 21-year-old defendant Ruba Mansouri, also of Boulder.

That sank the case against Nevarez.

Later in the day, another officer - who wasn't in the courtroom for the earlier misidentification - was invited to scan the room and pick out Mansouri.

The officer peered into the crowd and picked out another young, dark-haired woman - two seats to Mansouri's left.

Both women, seated near one another in the courtroom's third row, fought to keep a straight face.

Strike two. Mansouri's case followed Nevarez's into the dumpster.

"And they'd seen my picture - twice!" Mansouri noted later, with a chuckle. "It seems funny. It says a lot about them."

Denver resident Val Phillips, 36, was another who saw the case against her fall apart.

Denver police officer Vicen- te Damian identified Phillips without a problem. But when challenged to do so by Phillips' lawyer, the officer was unable to testify with certainty that Phillips had been present in the crowd of protesters when the orders to disperse were issued over a bullhorn by Denver Police Commander Rudy Sandoval.

That helped sink the case against Phillips.

Phillips, a Quaker, admitted to having mixed feelings about seeing her arrest at the emotionally charged protest dismissed as a result of pretrial legal wrangling.

"Obviously, it feels good not to have a conviction on my record because I don't feel that I have violated the social contract," she said.

"But at the same time, this was an act of conscience, and my preference would have been for the court" to rule "in favor of all the defendants."

The defendant who won a partial victory Friday was 23-year-old Therese Panian, an auto mechanic from Fort Collins. Her lawyer was able to win dismissal of the failure to obey a lawful order charge against her, but the loitering count against her still stands.

The protesters' cases have been split among three county court judges, and each judge is making independent rulings on the cases assigned to their respective divisions.

A motion to consolidate the cases of a dozen central organizers of the protest is pending before Denver County Court Judge Doris Burd, and is expected to be ruled on shortly.

Trials in some defendants' cases could begin next week.

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