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Defendant Nita Gonzales, far right, hugs juror Catrina Parsons on Thursday after her acquital. Behind them, juror Eric Ruderman, left, talks with another defendant, Troylynn Yellow Wood. Eight Columbus Day parade activists were found not guilty of disobeying a police order.

Columbus Day parade activists acquitted

Verdict may bode well for 200 others arrested at protest

By Charlie Brennan, Rocky Mountain News
January 21, 2005

Eight activists charged with failure to obey a police order during a protest of last year's Columbus Day parade in Denver were found not guilty Thursday.

The clean sweep for the defendants, who were represented by lawyers who took their cases for free, may bode well for more than 200 other people arrested at the same event.

"This was a case about justice and about historic truth and honesty," said one defendant, Glenn Morris, a member of the American Indian Movement. "Hate speech in Denver should be relegated to the past."

The eight defendants were acquitted in Denver County Court by a six-member jury, which deliberated for three hours. They were among those charged with failure to leave the intersection of 19th and Blake streets Oct. 9, where they gathered to block the annual Columbus Day parade, whose participants had a city permit for the event.

The protesters, members of the Transform Columbus Day Alliance, which includes a number of leaders from the American Indian Movement, see the Columbus Day parade as ethnic intimidation, a celebration of the mass genocide and oppression of American Indians and the birth of the slave trade between Africa and North America.

David Lane, who led the defense team, hopes the verdict persuades the Denver City Attorney's Office to drop all remaining cases.

"Hopefully, the city will see the light," said Lane. "If they have any sense at all, they'll pack it in."

Assistant City Attorney Robert Reynolds said, "I'm obviously disappointed with the verdict, although I would not quarrel with the quality of the jurors' service.

"I do honestly not know what effect this verdict is going to have on the other cases," he added.

In their closing arguments, both Lane and defense lawyer James Castle framed their clients' actions on Oct. 9 as being in the tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience exemplified by the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Lane said the parade represented an act of illegal ethnic intimidation and that the demonstrators felt they had a duty to do what they could to stop it.

"History is moving," Lane said. "History has shown that this kind of conduct (the protest) is to be applauded, not convicted."

Castle drew an analogy to those who stood trial for aiding the movement of slaves from servitude in the South to freedom in the North in the 1850s, in violation of existing fugitive slave laws.

"The civil rights movement of today is embodied by the individuals at that table," Castle said, gesturing at the defendants. "They're being called criminals. I call them heroes."

But Reynolds invoked King's name for his own purpose, saying the civil rights leader didn't attempt to avoid jail in making his stand against segregation.

He urged the defendants, "Take responsibility for your actions. Be willing to take the punishment, whatever it may be."

The eight who stood trial this week included the protest's organizers. They had been granted the right to have their cases consolidated and tried together.

Those acquitted were Morris, Ward Churchill, Nita Gonzales, Reginald Holmes, Leroy Lemos, Natsu Saito, Glenn Spagnuolo and Troylynn Yellow Wood.

All but Lemos took the stand to testify in their defense.

The seven who testified said they never heard any of the repeated warnings to disperse or face possible arrest, announced over a bullhorn that day by Denver Police Cmdr. Rudy Sandoval.

They made that claim even though jurors repeatedly watched a police videotape of the event that showed protesters appearing to grow more demonstrative each time the warning was issued.

"If the defendants did not hear the order to disperse, Reynolds said, "it is because they did not want to hear the order to disperse. They wanted very badly not to hear the order to disperse."

Several more Columbus Day protesters are scheduled for trial starting Monday.


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