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Motion hearing for 4/29 protest arrest brings out affinity of cops and judges.

DENVER, COLORADO- A local activist flipped off a municipal court judge. Yes, it’s not done, but the consequence was more severe than even the judge intended. She was attending a motions hearing of a fellow protester accused of disobeying a cop. During DPD testimony an officer was narrating a surveillance video which the audience was unabe to see. She tried to shift seats but was told to sit down. After two admonishments, she complied in silence but made a disrespectful gesture where she sat behind the flat screen monitor, where she thought the judge wouldn’t see. But a clerk did see the gesture and told the judge. Judge Nicole Rodarte, no friend of political activists and facing a roomful of them, immediately had her held in contempt of court for the remainder of the hearing. Contrary to instructions, the unnamed activist was taken across to the jail to serve a sentence of ten days. We’re not sure yet who was complicit with the mixup. Here’s what happened:

It was a hearing no Denver street activist wanted to miss. Habitual free-speech offender Jesse Benn is accused of disobeying a lawful order, being on the street, failure to disperse, etc, etc, at the April 29 march solidarity march for the people of Baltimore upset about the in-custody murder of Freddy Gray. Jesse’s jury trial will follow shortly.

At this motions hearing, the unpopular motorcycle cop Michael Rispoli was testifying as to the evidence against Jesse. Officer Rispoli is uniformly reviled for his tendency to ram his motorcycle into peaceful marchers. At the April 29 march, Rispoli dropped his motorcycle, feigning having been pushed by bicyclist Michael Moore. A SWAT crew piled on Moore, protesters rushed to his defense, this precipitated more arrests and prompted the police to pepperspray the crowd which included a number of small children. Justified by the attack on Officer Rispoli. Jesse Benn recorded the video which proved Rispoli’s lie. All charges were dropped against Moore, but the rest of the arrestees are being prosecuted, including Benn.

Rispoli by the way has been reassigned to DIA. After six years on the downtown motorcycle crew, monitoring and herding political demonstrations, he’s been demoted to the airport.

So at this hearing Bad Cop Rispoli was proudly testifying about the crowd-control techniques of the motorcycle unit. Very, very informative. At one point the prosecution played a police surveilance video so that Rispoli could give the play by play, point out offenders, and share his strategy. Except the audience couldn’t see the video screen. The content wasn’t forbidden, the judge just saw no need to make a screen available to the public. This being a public hearing.

It was frustrating, and said audience member rose to move about to catch a glimpse of the video. Judge Rodarte told her to sit down. She explained the problem, the judge only repeated her warning. She returned to her seat and apparently formed a finger with her left hand, thrown down behind the large screen monitor, where we couldn’t see, nor even the judge. The courtroom clerk spotted it however and told the judge.

Judge Rodarte promptly asked the deputees to remove the activist to an adjacent room used for in-custody defendants. She informed us that the activist was being held in contempt and her case would be handled at the close of the hearing, hopefully before the lunch break. The hearing resumed without further incident, except more lies from Rispoli. One lie prompted defendant Benn to hold a notepad aloft, for the audience’s eyes only, on which he’d scribbled “perjury!”

The hearing ended before lunch. Judge Rodarte excused herself to review the activist’s criminal record. Rodarte emerged from her chambers to announce that the matter would be addressed after lunch.

When court resumed at 1:30pm, Offender X was brought back in from the side door. Judge Rodarte gave a brief lecture about how X’s act had insulted the integrity of her courtroom and the justice system, etc. She asked if X had anything to say in anticipation of sentencing.

X gave a similarly brief speech about what she’d witnessed in Rodarte’s courtroom and the affront it represented to the public. X closed by declaring she welcomed whatever consequence the judge wanted to throw at her.

“I sentence you to two hours, time served” said Judge Rodarte. She ordered the sheriffs to release X, when they were done with her, or words to that effect.

We went to the jail to await X’s release, anticipating the usual booking delay. We eventually learned that X was supposed to serve a ten day sentence for contempt of court. It took us 35 hours before the error was sorted out. The detention center staff had admitted X with absolutely no authority to do so, certainly no documents remain on file. There is no paper trail and the Office of the Independent Monitor and Internal Affairs are trying to sort it out. Stay tuned.

The case against activist Jesse Benn raises the penultimate question about the right to march in protest. Jesse Benn is charged with being in the street. Traffic laws favor cars over people in the use of public roads, but does a vehicles right of way always abridge the peoples right to assemble? Hundreds of demonstrators marching to seek redress of grievances need the road too. Very often authorities tolerate protesters taking the streets for that very reason. Or because authorities have already blocked the streets. It’s complicated, and Jesse Benn might be being punished here because he took the video that implicated a bad cop. The system wants to use Jesse Benn as an example. Activist need to use Benn as their example, to teach the city a lesson about wrongful arrest and our civil liberties.

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