......... "take charges of blocking the doorway of the armed forces recruiting station in Times Square to trial and "Make my day"
January 11, 2006
Judge Demands Police Video of Grandmothers' ProtestBy ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS
A judge ordered the Manhattan district attorney yesterday to turn over a videotape of 18 women accused of blocking the doorway of the armed forces recruiting station in Times Square.
Their lawyer, Norman Siegel, told the judge that the videotape was made by the police Oct. 17, while the women were sitting on the sidewalk in front of the building to protest the war in Iraq. The women at the time handed out fliers calling themselves Antiwar Grandmothers.
The grandmothers - 16 of them, anyway, plus a doctor's note from a 17th asking that she be excused because of a hip replacement - appeared yesterday in State Supreme Court in Lower Manhattan armed with symbolic silver handcuffs. Their toy cuffs, however, were confiscated by court officers as they passed through metal detectors.
"You're not supposed to have handcuffs," a court officer patiently explained to Vinie Harrison, one of the women.
"That shakes me," Ms. Harrison said. "It's such a small thing, but it's symptomatic of what's happening in this country and that madman in the White House, and Halliburton, and the deficit and Abramoff and DeLay."
In the fourth-floor courtroom, the clerk called the women to the railing one by one. Courtroom regulars marveled at the sight of 16 women, some carrying canes and pushing walkers, stretching across the room. Many wore photos of their grandchildren on chains around their necks. Some lawyers complained that the group had taken along about 50 supporters, making it hard to get a seat.
Addressing Justice Alexander Jeong, Mr. Siegel said he had been told that the videotape showed that at least one person had been able to walk past the women into the recruitment center. This was proof, he said, that they were not blocking the doorway, and that disorderly conduct charges against them should be dismissed.
At first the prosecutor, Karen Corrie, said there was no videotape. When Mr. Siegel pressed, Ms. Corrie corrected herself, saying she had misread her notes. But, she said, her office was having trouble "accessing" the videotape.
Justice Jeong asked her to make the videotape available as soon as possible and set a court date of March 2.
Mr. Siegel said the videotape might have been made by plainclothes or undercover officers, because he did not recall seeing any uniformed officers videotaping at the scene. Police surveillance of political demonstrations has become a controversial topic recently. The Police Department has been criticized for using officers disguised as protesters to infiltrate demonstrations.
Just last month, a group of civil rights lawyers sent a letter to the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, demanding an end to what they said was illegal surveillance of protesters. The letter cited undercover videotapes of bicycle rallies, antiwar protests and demonstrations during the 2004 Republican National Convention.
There was some dispute over the tape after the hearing. Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, said that she could not confirm that the police had videotaped the group, but that there may have been news tapes available. Paul J. Browne, a spokesman for the Police Department, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Mr. Siegel said that an assistant district attorney had left a message on his answering machine saying that the local precinct had told her that the Police Department's technical assistance response unit had videotaped the demonstration. Prosecutors are required to make such evidence available to the defense.
Prosecutors declined to drop the charges yesterday, instead offering the women "adjournment in contemplation of dismissal," meaning the charges would be dropped if they were not arrested again for six months.
The women turned down that offer because it would hobble their protesting. Calling themselves Grandmothers Against the War, they demonstrate outside Rockefeller Center every Wednesday afternoon. Mr. Siegel told his clients that he would go to trial if necessary, and, after insisting that that was not his first choice, added, "Make my day."