I was there for the whole afternoon - the hearing had apparently started in the morning, and will be continued at 9am, April 17th. The spectacle was fascinating in a sick way - so this is the other side of how the sausage is made. Apparently this hearing was about a motion to suppress certain evidence. A couple of cops testified and a video was played. There was no jury; just a judge, a prosecutor, and 19 defense attorneys, one for each defendant.
The hearing started out with the prosecutor showing the following video of events near the intersection of Battery and Sacramento:
First of all, I was astonished by just how much detail one can miss, which became clear when the cops were questioned by the defense attorneys. After watching that video (only 1 minute 39 seconds long), can you answer the following questions?
- About how many "civilians" (people who aren't cops) did you see?
- How many are on the sidewalk? How many are in the street?
- Were there any people who weren't protestors on the sidewalk? In the street?
- Was an order to disperse ever given?
- Were there any people in the street not wearing black?
- How fast was the cop on a bicycle going when he fell? Was he pedaling when he fell? How did he fall? (I.e. was he pulled down by the handlebars, did he collide with someone, or did he fall on his own?) This was three seconds into the video.
- Were there any mailboxes or trash cans at the corner by where the arrests were made?
- Did some police chase after protestors outside the semicircle? Why?
A couple of minor notes: 1) It was unbelievable to me that the prosecution played this video. The video was titled "SFPD beat and arrest demonstrators", and that title seems to be totally accurate. Some of those baton thrusts are just sickening. 2) Amusingly, the video was played using the popular, free VLC Player, which is probably in violation of the "patent minefield" of video decoding. So the prosecution was probably breaking the law just by showing the video.
The prosecutor kept on referring to herself as "the people", like some goddamn parody of a French revolutionary, and the documents were "the people's 19", etc. Those who go to court all the time might be used to this, but it really is ridiculous.
The first cop on the stand, Pasqual, who has worked for the SFPD for 13 years, I believe, had testified in the morning and was now being questioned by several different defense attorneys. A few things about his testimony:
- He said that unpermitted marches cause "chaos", but here the chaos seems amplified by the police.
- He wouldn't name a certain police tactic, even though it's part of SFPD procedures, which are published.
- He claimed not to know what "echelon" meant in the context of a command. Not sure why this is important, but the attorneys wanted to know about it.
- He seemed to imply, and the very existence of this case implies, that the SFPD is taking a hard line against unpermitted marches, and has an obsession with getting people off of the street onto the sidewalk. This is crazy; San Francisco has a long tradition of unpermitted demonstrations in the street, including monthly Critical Mass bicycle rides.
- He claimed that the bike cop was thrown to the ground by someone grabbing the handlebars. This beggars belief. This is just not something someone is likely to do with twenty other cops nearby.
- He contradicted himself - he said that they moved in and arrested people because they were in the street, but also said that they moved in for "officer safety" (of the cop who fell off his bike).
- He made a great Freudian slip - when asked about the people he batoned (five or six, he said), he once referred to them as "victims".
For real, that's his name. Murray Daggs. Six foot five black dude. He said he was on the "Violence Reduction Team", and has worked as a cop for six years.
There was a digression while all the lawyers and the judge discussed court dates, which was highly amusing. Getting twenty lawyers to agree to a time - wow. The judge was being totally hardcore and not taking any shit. It went on for a while, and the defense attorneys seemed shocked and unsettled about setting a court date - almost like they didn't want it to come, or didn't think this would ever actually go to trial. Eventually they settled on April 17th, possibly into the 18th for the continuation of this hearing, and a pretrial date September 10th at 9am before a three-week trial starting on September 24th. Jesus. Why didn't they just make it Columbus Day, 2013?
This cop's testimony had a lot of contradictions with the previous cop's. For instance:
- Said the protestors were tightly bunched-up in the street - Pasqual said there were some small clumps, with others more spread out. (Keep in mind the two cops were only four feet apart from each other in the police line.)
- Pasqual said somebody pulled the bike cop's handlebars. Daggs said that because the cops were taking projectiles (bottles of paint and such), the bike cop went in - alone - to grab a protestor. This explanation also beggars belief. No cop would go alone into a group to grab a person, especially while the cop was riding a bike.
- The previous cop refused to estimate protest size at all; this one said about 200.
Both cops implied that protestors had to disperse but confirmed under cross-examination that no dispersal order was given; the command was to get on the sidewalk. Daggs seemed obsessed with pointing out that protestors, rather than cops, blocked traffic.
As mentioned before, it is quite unusual that SFPD and the district attorney's office are pressing this case. (The DA is George Gascon, former SFPD police chief.) It seems they are trying to criminalize unpermitted marches and particularly unpermitted marches in the street. Again, this is a big change - I have been in fairly small marches (50 people or fewer) where we took the street.
It really is a mystery what the fuck that bicycle cop was doing. As far as I can tell, he deliberately crashed into someone to provide an excuse for the police to move in and arrest a bunch of people. In other words, this entire case is a setup. After this hearing, I am more certain that this is a tactic to scare and harass political radicals in the Bay Area.
As the prosecutor lumbered on with her shitty case, I thought, does she dispute the underlying facts? The fact that the law and order she thinks she's defending came about by violence, and the fact that this very land was stolen from the people who lived here already? I doubt she even thinks twice about it. She's got her little career, and she'll build it on the backs of some of the best people. She's part of the current scene of massive prosecutorial overreach.