US District Judge William Martinez will decide if Denver Police Chief Robert White is in contempt of court after his officers raided jury nullification educators on Wednesday. The day following a federal injunction ordering police to stop arresting jury activists, jury rights activists assembled outside of Lindsey Flanagan Courthouse under a shade canopy to continue the distribution of jury literature. Police said the canopy violated municipal code. Attorney for the activists David Lane in addition to Denver officials said there was no such ordinance.
Early last month, two jury rights educators were distributing pamphlets produced by the organization Fully Informed Jury Association. The literature describes how jurors have civil protections to rule in verdicts as the individual juror decides. Both educators Eric Brandt and Mark Iannicelli were arrested and charged with seven felony counts of jury tampering. Following the arrests, two other activists, Eric Verlo and Janet Matzen wanted to continue the pamphlet distribution but feared arrest. A request for an injunction was filed with US District Court and approved by District Judge William Martinez on August 25, 2015. Judge William Martinez’ action nullifies a lower court order by Chief Judge Michael Martinez that sought to prohibit First Amendment Activity on courthouse grounds. A directive by Denver City Attorney Scott Martinez was thought to be sufficient to stop police activity at the courthouse.
The cases of Brandt and Iannicelli are due to be heard in court later this month. In both of those cases, the defendants Brandt and Iannicellli have continued to pass out jury information literature under the protection of the injunction.
An August 26, 2015 raid by Denver Police of an area outside of Lindsey Flanagan Courthouse led to a complaint being filed against Chief of Police Robert White by civil rights attorney David Lane on behalf of activists whose possessions were confiscated. The motion names White as being in contempt of court when jury rights educators were prevented from continuing to distribute jury nullification literature as they had for weeks. In court on Tuesday Dr. Nazli McDonnell, a physician with the Veterans Administration, said that activists’ jury nullification literature was taken as well as their signs and flags, “After the raid we were embarrassed and traumatized and followed police to try to get our things back.”
The August 26th raid as video and audio documented by KGNU shows about a dozen uniformed Denver Police officers approaching the jury information booth and tearing down the stand that had been erected to shade educators. Video shows that confiscated materials included the canopy, chairs, the table, a laptop, signs, flags, and the signature buckets seen at other protests in the streets of Denver. In court on Tuesday, Corporal Lisa Aitken Nelson testified that no First Amendment material was confiscated including signs and flags.
Laura Avant who was one activist raided on Wednesday told KGNU that police lied in court when they claimed that no one claimed the possessions and that they were confiscated under abandoned property ordinances, “I was telling [the police] these are our things. You have no right to take our things.”
During court testimony, Lieutenant Mark Drajem testified that the activist stand was removed because a permit was needed to erect it. Although he did not express that officers were acting as the result of a complaint, Drajem expressed to activists during the raid, “You need a permit for the structure. If you don’t move away, you will be arrested.”
In a twist of events later in the day, jury rights activist McDonnell told KGNU that when she attempted to apply for a permit to continue jury nullification distribution information under the protection of the canopy shelter, that she was told by the Department of Public Works that a permit was not necessary.
Eric Brandt, one of those charged with jury tampering continued his literature distribution outside Lindsey Flanagan before the hearing on Monday. He predicted that he would not be allowed to attend the hearing because he does not have the picture identification required to enter the building, reporting that his ID had been taken and kept by Denver law enforcement during an arrest. He protested outside of the Alfred A. Arraj US Courthouse saying, “I cannot even attend a hearing where this issue can affect the next 45 years of my life.” Brandt has been arrested multiple times in different counties for jury nullification information distribution. As of now, all charges for jury tampering have been dropped although he has several charges yet to defend.
As he expected, he was denied access to the hearing and protested on a bullhorn outside of the federal court building although in a change of circumstances, he was allowed access when those inside came to his assistance and persuaded clerks to allow him access to the hearing.
Attorney David Lane who filed the motion for the plaintiffs said that he would expect that the officers responsible for the contempt of court actions under Commander Tony Lopez be arrested.
Attorney in the State Attorney General’s office Matthew Grove said during the August 25, 2015 injunction hearing that his office supported having an order that prevented First Amendment activity outside of the courthouse. He cited the death penalty case of Dexter Lewis that was taking place at the courthouse at the time cautioning that the court should prepare for civil unrest. When none happened, Judge William Martinez questioned Grove about why the 2nd Judicial District would want to continue an order with no end date and when conditions in the order had been fulfilled. Grove responded that his office supports a standing order to prevent First Amendment activity outside of the courthouse and that he disagreed with the judge that the order had been fulfilled, “There is still a need to have a standing order.”
The producers of the jury nullification literature the Fully Informed Jury Association, an organization of primarily attorneys, plans to mark Jury Rights Day on the plaza of Lindsey Flanagan on Friday, September 4th.
Judge William Martinez is expected to rule on the contempt charge within the next few days.