The trial for an Extinction Rebellion activist has been postponed after the judge decided that activists "tainted" the jury in a chaotic incident inside the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse on Wednesday, December 18, that ended with two members of another activist group, Occupy Denver, being arrested.
The man whose case was supposed to go to trial yesterday, 76-year-old Fred Henrich, was arrested along with seven others for blocking an intersection during a September 23 protest advocating for aggressive climate action. His attorney, Jason Flores-Williams, was planning to argue that police had prompted the original violation that resulted in the arrest. Extinction Rebellion called for supporters to "pack the court" in solidarity with Henrich.
Witnesses offer different versions of what derailed the trial. Some members of Occupy Denver, a group whose mission is "to stand up to all injustice and get every killer cop off the streets," were talking in the hall about another incident. Organizer Brian Loma says they did not realize that the entire jury pool was nearby. When the attorneys and judge in the court room noticed that the activists were talking near the jury, they called members in and dismissed all spectators to the hall.
According to Flores-Williams, some jury members told Judge Andre Rudolph that they were offended and threatened by the conversation they had overheard Occupy Denver members having. Loma says the Occupy members were discussing another incident they had witnessed earlier that day involving a deaf man who did not want to be escorted out of the building by sheriffs. Flores-Williams says jury members reported hearing the activists discuss the judge in harsh and vulgar terms, and some potential jurors had associated Occupy Denver members with Extinction Rebellion and Henrich. Loma says Occupy Denver has a sordid history with Judge Rudolph.
According to Matthew Wozniak, an Extinction Rebellion activist who was also arrested at the September 23 protest, "There was one individual that was completely unproductive and disrespectful of the court, telling the judge to fuck off or something to that effect. He starting raising his voice in the hallway, being very profane. I have to imagine that that was the offense that was in the imaginations of the jurors. ... I don’t appreciate it, because Fred is an elderly man, and what he’s doing there is brave and has real consequences. To not be considering the effects that you’ll have on his freedom, that seems to be disrespectful and shortsighted."
Loma says he knows this individual, but that the man is not a member of Occupy Denver.
Loma began live-streaming what was happening to his YouTube channel, Cut the Plastic. Most of the live stream shows activists with Extinction Rebellion, Occupy Denver and other organizations waiting at the door of the courtroom.
Sheriff's deputies approached Loma and other Occupy Denver members and ordered them to leave, saying they had been disturbing courtroom proceedings. Loma asked to see a written order and argued with the deputies for a few minutes before one escorted him down the stairs and out of the building. In the video, several people can be heard yelling and screaming expletives in the hallway above. Loma then yelled, "Anyone who's got a phone, call 911! Denver sheriffs are assaulting civilians!" Outside the courthouse, Loma and others continued to verbally clash with sheriffs.
A separate video posted to Extinction Rebellion's website shows part of what was ensuing in the hallway at the time: Sheriff's deputies ordered several others to leave. One of those present, according to Loma, was Deputy Bret Garegnani, who had previously been suspended for his role in the 2015 death of inmate Michael Marshall. Garegnani was reprimanded in a report by the Independent Monitor for pinning Marshall down as he suffocated from vomit, but was also controversially nominated for a life-saving award. Occupy Denver members referred to him as a "killer cop" and resisted following his orders to leave.
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When multiple deputies surrounded one member, another woman began yelling, "Get the fuck away from her!," and stepped into the circle. The two women were arrested and detained in the Denver County Jail.
Flores-Williams says that Occupy Denver's tactic of yelling directly at sheriffs and, as he puts it, shouting "obnoxious expressions and thinking that that is somehow fighting the system," distracted from the issue at hand and gave activists a bad rap. "As part of fighting for a better world, one of the real struggles are all of the associations that people have with activism, those who try to compel the status quo to move forward. This crowd came there and just stuck every grungy, dumb activist cliché out into the people that we have fought so hard to try to reach and convince," he says. "These people — who are allegedly for civil disobedience, for people who like my client have the sort of bravery to stand up and get arrested and get prosecuted for breaking the laws of the system in the name of shining a light on the most important issue that faces humanity right now — they actually prejudiced the jury pool against him."
Extinction Rebellion posted a different take on the incident to its Facebook group. "The Occupy folks at the trial in support of Fred were treated unfairly. If one person causes a disruption in the court room, that one person can be asked to leave. Asking all the Occupy people to leave was inappropriate."
Henrich's trial was moved to February.