Preemptive police raid on RNC protesters leads to call for probe
The Minnesota Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild is seeking a judicial review into six activists arrested during a police raid on a group organizing protests against the Republican National Convention, The Minnesota Independent reported Sunday.
A representative of the National Lawyers Guild said the police officers are simply trying to prevent the activists from their right to protest as no charges or official complaints have been filed.
“If they have evidence of a criminal act, then they should charge them,” he says. “And if they can charge [my client, Monica Bicking] with a complaint, then we will go defend that in court. But right now they are just holding them. You can’t just hold [Bicking] to prevent her from exercising her free speech.”
The activists were arrested when the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department stormed a rented meeting place of the RNC Welcoming Committee, a self-described “anarchist/anti-authoritarian” group, in St. Paul, Minnesota Friday night, CNN reported.
As many as 30 police officers entered the building with guns drawn, temporarily detaining and photographing at least 50 people.
St. Paul Police spokesman Tom Walsh said the men acted under a search warrant, but said “the cause for the search warrant is not public at this time.”
Although no one in the building has been charged with anything, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher issued a press release which called those in the building “criminal anarchists” and listed materials for bombs and hazardous materials police found in the building, including “assorted edged weapons”, “wrist rockets”, “large amounts of urine” and many others.
A statement from the group maintains that the meeting place “is not used for illegal actions” and that members were “watching films and sharing food” when police raided the building.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman defended the actions of the county sheriff’s department as necessary to keep other protesters of the Republican National Convention safe.
“We are making sure that people here to legitimately protest have the right to do that, but people engaging in criminal activity are not going to be able to do that,” Coleman said.
The following is a press release from the Minnesota Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild castigating the police raid and calling for judicial review of the “probable cause holds” used to detain the six activists:
August 31, 2008 – The Minnesota Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild is seeking prompt judicial review of the preventative detentions of six citizen activists ordered by Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher.
Monica Bicking, Eryn Trimmer, Luce Guillen Givins, Erik Oseland, Garrett Fitzgerald, and Nathanael Secor, are all currently being held on “probable cause holds” in the Ramsey County Jail after being transferred late last night from the Hennepin County Jail. In Minnesota, a probable cause hold can be ordered by a police officer without a prosecutor or a judge reviewing a criminal complaint. Due to the arrest occurring on a weekend holiday, all six citizens can be held until Wednesday, September 3, 2008, without the filing of a formal charge.
Three of the arrestees are life-long residents of Minnesota. Two previously worked in early childhood education and passed background checks to obtain that employment. All have extensive ties to Minnesota, including employment and family members. One is a graduate of the University of Minnesota. None of the six arrestees have ever been convicted of a felony or crime of violence. One person arrested on Saturday morning, August 30th, was previously detained on Friday night at the St. Paul convergence center where he was photographed and identified. Despite being labeled a “key member” of a “criminal enterprise” and a planner of a “criminal conspiracy,” he was released on Friday night even though Sheriff Fletcher had conducted a months long investigation, using informants, and presumably identified the “key leaders” who he claims were organizing riots and civil disorder.
All six arrestees appear to face maximum charges of a gross misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a fine of $3,000. Absent death or use of a firearm, a criminal charge of “Riot” in Minnesota is a gross misdemeanor. Minn. Stat. §609.71. A charge of “civil disorder” is a gross misdemeanor and requires proof that a person made or instructed another to use a firearm, explosive, or incendiary device to cause civil unrest. Minn. Stat. §609.669. Property damage in Minnesota under $1,000.00 is also a gross misdemeanor. Minn. Stat. §609.595.
Despite the incendiary and alarmist language used by Sheriff Fletcher, there is no evidence that the common household items and tools seized in the pre-emptive house raids were intended to be used to cause death or civil unrest. No judge or prosecutor has reviewed the allegations made by Sheriff Fletcher.
In light of the fact that none of the arrestees appear to face felony charges, their extensive ties to Minnesota, and their lack of any serious prior criminal record, attorneys for the National Lawyers Guild are seeking to have a Ramsey County judge review the detentions on Sunday, August 31, 2008. This would be an informal review at which a judge could dismiss the charges or set conditions of release. Media updates will be provided if such a review is held.