Rocky Mountain News
City to pursue parade trials

Official undeterred by legal setbacks

By Charlie Brennan, Rocky Mountain News
January 22, 2005

City officials aren't backing off plans to prosecute about 230 more people arrested at last year's Columbus Day parade, despite losing the first eight cases that went to trial.

"Our plan is to proceed," said City Attorney Cole Finegan. "We consider all the factors, but for the time being, yes, the plan is to move forward."

Jurors returned not guilty verdicts Thursday in Denver County Court for eight leaders of a protest that blocked the progress of the Oct. 9 Columbus Day parade.

All had been charged with failure to obey a police order to disperse.

During the three-day trial, defense lawyers argued that the defendants, including three prominent American Indian Movement activists, believed they had a moral duty stemming from their belief that a parade celebrating Christopher Columbus is an illegal act of ethnic intimidation because it honors a man they blame for the genocide and oppression of millions of American Indians.

After the verdicts were announced, David Lane, who led the defense in this week's trial, expressed hope that the city would drop further prosecutions.

On Friday, he was dismayed that Finegan won't be doing so.

"The fact that they took their best shot and lost on the leaders of the protest . . . if nothing else, it's fiscally irresponsible that the people of Denver are going to have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars prosecuting the rank-and-file members of the protest," Lane said.

"Now they're going to turn their attention to juveniles and high school kids," he added.

Although all seven defendants who testified said they never heard repeated police warnings to clear the intersection at 19th and Blake streets or face arrest, jurors were also clearly moved by the defendants' impassioned testimony about the political motivations for their actions.

"We certainly were very aware and cognizant of the ethnic-intimidation issue," said jury foreman Eric Ruderman, who is a lawyer. "These folks stood up for what they believed was right."

Juror Laura Reister said the defendants' perception of the parade as an act of ethnic intimidation was not answered by any prosecution evidence to the contrary.

Absent such prosecution testimony, Reister said, "You have to use your moral compass."

On Friday morning, Finegan met with Vince DiCroce, his director for prosecution and code enforcement, and Deputy City Attorney Michelle Lucero to discuss all aspects of the Columbus Day protest prosecutions.

"I was disappointed in the verdict," Finegan said. "I certainly thought the facts in evidence in the case would have resulted in a different verdict. But I respect the process, and now we move on."

He declined to talk about possible changes in the way the city responds to future protest actions, but said, "These cases demand a tremendous amount of manpower and resources.

"We obviously monitor that - and all aspects of our office - on a regular basis, and so I'll continue to look at it on a regular basis."

From 1989 through 2003, the city of Denver spent about $1 million on security at the Columbus Day event - most of that going toward putting 500 to 600 officers on the street to ensure that the parade goes off peacefully.

The city has a poor track record in prosecuting people charged in connection with protesting the event.

Four American Indian activists, including two who were tried in this week's case, also were acquitted at trial in April 1992 for blocking the 1991 parade.

Italian-American organizations then canceled plans for a 1992 parade, and the event lay dormant until 2000, when it was revived by Sons of Italy-New Generation.

Protests in 2000 resulted in 139 arrests. All of those cases were dismissed a few months later.

Even before Thursday's verdicts were returned, the latest batch of cases has not gone well for the city.

A second charge of loitering has been dismissed against about two-thirds of the 2004 defendants, and may be dropped for the remaining third when the judge handling their cases returns Monday after being sidelined by a recent illness in her family.

Also, at least a half-dozen of the most recent cases have been dismissed before reaching trial, after a judge found a lack of probable cause.

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