Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Case record in wake of protests a mixed bag

Convictions at 73%; some charges dismissed

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        With a significant show of force under a public spotlight, Cincinnati police last fall arrested 50 protesters of the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue downtown.

        Results from those arrests are mixed.

        Of the 44 resolved cases, prosecutors have secured 32 convictions — 22 for disorderly conduct — during the Nov. 18-19 international trade discussion at the Omni Netherland Plaza Hotel.

Charge Defendants Convictions Rate
Disorderly conduct 30 22 73%
Hood ordinance* 4 3 75%
Resisting arrest 4 4 100%
Riot 2 2 100%
Criminal trespass 2 0 0
Fountain Sq. prohibited 1 1 100%
Assaulting a police horse 1 0 0
Total 44 32 73%
*Ordinance against wearing a hood or mask in public
Note: Eight cases are pending, including two in which the grand jury did not indict on charges as filed by police.
Source: Cincinnati police.
        Several protesters faced multiple charges. But eight cases have been dismissed and four others ended in acquittal. Eight more are still pending.

        That gives authorities — for now — a conviction rate of 73 percent, for an event at which dozens of police officers were present before the criminal activity began.

        The rate compares favorably with the much-publicized confrontations with police in 1999 in Seattle, when hundreds of protesters were arrested. Of the last 100 defendants there, charges were dismissed against 77 of them.

        Protesters in both cities were opposed to the globalization of business and what they called its harm to working Americans and the environment. In Cincinnati, business chief executive officers met at the Omni to discuss strategy.

        Hundreds of protesters, many from out of state, gathered on Fountain Square, and 47 were arrested that Saturday, when riot gear-wearing officers used chemical spray to control the crowd. Some protesters were cited for jaywalking.

        The police show of force was a response to the previous day, when several windows of downtown businesses were smashed by protesters.

        Cincinnati police Lt. Ray Ruberg said the department would not comment on its response, the conviction rate or costs to taxpayers until an after-action report is completed.

        “The report's not quite done yet, but should be soon,” he said. “Litigation (is) involved in causing part of the delay.”

        That litigation involves the dismissal of charges against Caleb Bennett, a 24-year-old Corryville musician charged with assaulting a police horse during the second day of the protests.

        Police initially said he grabbed the horse's neck, causing the horse to rear back and the officer on the horse to fall.

        The charge was dropped after a TV station produced a videotape of the incident. By then, Mr. Bennett had spent five days in jail.

        He is now suing the police in federal court. He is seeking compensation for what he considers an illegal arrest, and a punitive-damage award against police. Mr. Bennett says he was standing in front of the horse when it fell, brushing Mr. Bennett's backpack.

        “To me it was, they made up something,” Mr. Bennett said. “For whatever reason, maybe the guy looked bad when he fell.

        “I was there just for education purposes — I thought the whole reason to have a protest is to get people to pay attention to what's going on,” he said. “It was one of the few times in my life I felt completely helpless. It's probably the most unsettling experience I've ever had, seeing a police force that was overwhelming.”

        His attorney, Robert Newman, added: “There needn't be people arrested to set up the impression of public order.”

        Police supporters strongly disagree and point to the fact that despite the volatile nature of the protest, no one was seriously hurt.

        “The city did an incredible job,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said. “Their response was tempered and their preparedness kept it a situation that didn't get out of control.”

        Mr. Bennett identified himself upon arrest, but for 18 defendants, the reason they were kept in jail longer than usual was because they refused to give police their names. Of those, 15 were later convicted, and charges are still pending against the other three. No one who refused to give a name was exonerated.

        Of the 12 protesters who were acquitted or against whom charges were withdrawn, eight were charged with disorderly conduct and no other charge, according to Cincinnati police statistics.

        The only two felony cases still pending involve a Columbus-area man and woman, Steve Stothard and Gina Mathias, who were charged with forgery and tampering. They are accused of trying to make press passes on a computer in a conference room at the Omni. The grand jury indicted the two on charges of unauthorized use, obstructing official business and attempted forgery. A plea hearing is set for March 5.

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