Friday, September 17, 2010

RNC 8 charges dismissed for three defendants

September 16, 2010

Luce Guillen-Givens, Monica Bicking, and Erin Trimmer can breathe a little easier after the Ramsey County Attorney dismissed charges brought against them as part of the RNC 8 prosecution. A fourth defendant, Erik Oseland, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor -- consisting of talking about knocking over newspaper boxes -- as part of a plea bargain on August 27. The remaining four defendants (Rob Czernik, Garret Fitzgerald, Max Specktor, Nathanael Secor) are scheduled to go to trial on October 25.

According to an email from defense attorney Bruce Nestor, "The State has mailed plea offers to the remaining four defendants as it seeks to settle the case prior to the scheduled trial date of October 25, 2010." Nestor says he heard about the dismissals via a copy of an email to the court indicating that charges against the three would be "in the interest of justice."

Nestor noted that Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner's office said the dismissal came because the trials would be costly and time-consuming.

"I don't think that Susan Gaertner should be allowed to hide behind this kind of justification," said Nestor. "For two years she and Bob Fletcher have claimed that the RNC Welcoming Committee was a criminal enterprise. It is absolutely shameful to charge them with conspiracy and terrorism charges and then dismiss those charges two years later because the trials are going to be time consuming. They [Gaertner and Fletcher] should stand up and say they were wrong."

The RNC 8 were arrested before the 2008 Republican National Convention began, and did not participate in any of the demonstrations or other actions during the convention. The prosecution is based entirely on the theory of conspiracy to commit crimes. That's the basis of the third-degree conspiracy plea by Oseland, whose testimony at the time of his guilty plea was about talking about knocking over newspaper boxes.

Luce Guillen-Givens said, "I'm relieved personally that the risk for me has been taken out of the situation, but all this really does is demonstrate what we said all along that this is a politically motivated case and an abusive prosecution and we are committed to keep on fighting for the other four."

Guillen-Givens also extended an invitation: "We have a dinner coming up on September 28 at Walker Church at 6:30 p.m. - it's a free community meal, which we do every month, and everybody is invited to come."

Full disclosure: In the past, Luce Guillen-Givens has done clerical work as an independent contractor for the Twin Cities Media Alliance, the nonprofit organization that publishes the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

Remember the RNC 8? Now, there are only 4

Charges against three dropped in alleged plot to disrupt convention

By Emily Gurnon

And then there were four.

Prosecutors dismissed charges against three of the remaining seven members of a group — originally called the RNC 8 — facing conspiracy charges in connection with the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

"Dismissing three of the cases will allow us to concentrate on the most culpable defendants and to use our limited office resources for other serious felony cases," Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said in a statement Thursday.

The defense said the cases were politically motivated and the evidence was weak.

Charges were dropped against protest organizers Monica Bicking, 25, Luce Guillen-Givins, 25, and Erin Chase Trimmer, 25, all of Minneapolis.

"To me, it shows what we've said from the beginning: that this is a political case using charges of terrorism and conspiracy to riot to justify the massive police presence and repression during the 2008 RNC," said Bruce Nestor, the attorney for Bicking.

"The fact that all charges have now been dismissed against three leading members of what Ramsey County has called a 'criminal enterprise' exposes the reality behind the case."

The defendants were members of the RNC Welcoming Committee, a group of anarchists who promised to disrupt the 2008 convention and prevent delegates from reaching the Xcel Energy Center, where the convention took place.

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at the time the group planned to harm officers working the convention.

None of the group carried out any protests; they were jailed before the convention began.

They initially were charged with second-degree conspiracy to commit riot in furtherance of terrorism — a charge that carried a potential five years in prison. The county attorney's office later dropped the terrorism charges.

An eighth defendant, Erik Oseland, 23, of Nisswa pleaded guilty Aug. 27 to third-degree conspiracy to commit criminal damage to property, a gross misdemeanor.

He admitted in court that in the days before the convention, he and others discussed knocking over newspaper boxes, thus "impeding the flow of convention traffic," as his attorney, Ted Dooley, put it.

District Judge Teresa Warner sentenced him to 91 days in the county workhouse; it was agreed he would not be called to testify against fellow defendants.

The remaining defendants are Robert Czernik, 35, Garrett Fitzgerald, 27, Nathanael Secor, 28, and Max Specktor, 21, all of Minneapolis. They are charged with second-degree conspiracy to commit riot and first-degree conspiracy to commit criminal damage to property.

The four are scheduled to go to trial Oct. 25 — a trial Gaertner had estimated would have lasted at least two months with seven defendants. Having fewer defendants will save time and make it easier to find jurors, she said in the statement Thursday.

Attorney Jordan Kushner, who represented Guillen-Givins, said the case was "politically abusive" and lambasted officials for what he said was a waste of public time and money.

The evidence against his client, he said, consisted mainly that she organized a civil disobedience action in Anoka County two months before the RNC.

She had an "active role in the RNC Welcoming Committee" but did nothing to warrant the felony charges, Kushner said. He said the same was true for the other defendants, including those remaining.

"Obviously, I feel very personally relieved that I don't have to worry about being prosecuted anymore, but there are still four of my co-defendants who remain," Guillen-Givins said.

The path the cases have taken — first the removal of the terrorism charge, then the three dismissals — shows prosecutors have tried to whittle them down.

"I think this just shows how weak the entire case was to begin with and how abusive the prosecution has been," Guillen-Givins said.

Gaertner has said the case was never politically motivated and was not about criminalizing dissent: "It's about criminalizing destructive behavior and prosecuting destructive behavior."

Gaertner also said that the dismissals were "in direct response to the judge's ruling that all the defendants would be tried together."

"A joint trial would have furthered the defendants' and defense attorneys' interests in having a political platform in a circus-like atmosphere," she said.

The judge made that decision several months ago.

Gaertner said she has made plea offers to the remaining four defendants.

In addition to the eight conspiracy charges, the Ramsey County attorney's office charged 14 other individuals with criminal damage to property, obstruction of legal process or assault in connection with RNC protests. Eleven resulted in convictions; three cases were dismissed.

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