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million bail for misdemeanors!

by INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS By Craig R. McCoy ,Tho Saturday, Aug. 05, 2000 at 9:46 PM

Mainstream article by Philadelphia Enquirer about arrests.

Even as the world's media shone a bright light on Philadelphia police

clearing masses of protesters from blockaded streets this week, police were

carrying out a much less public - and much more selective - operation to

collar demonstration leaders.

Eyewitnesses accounts and video taken by demonstrators document police moving

in to swiftly arrest at least two such leaders.

One, John Sellers, 33, a nationally known civil-disobedience activist from

Berkeley, Calif., was arrested Wednesday as he walked along JFK Boulevard.

Yesterday, Sellers, who grew up in Chester County, was held on million

bail - even though he was only charged with misdemeanor offenses.

Defense lawyers called the sum unprecedented and punitive, while a prosecutor

portrayed him as the real puppetmaster in a protest replete with puppets and

other theatrical agitprop objects.

Another protester, Paul Davis, a Philadelphia activist on AIDS issues in his

20s, was arrested Tuesday as he walked on a blockaded street and spoke on a

cell phone. It was unclear last night whether his bail had been set.

Police Commissioner John F. Timoney yesterday spoke of "some arrests effected

in the Center City area that included some of the so-called leaders," but

declined to provide details.

He did say police had good reason for every arrest.

"We think we can prove they've engaged in criminal activity," the

commissioner said during his morning news briefing.

There were no preemptive strikes "just to take leaders out," he said.

Furious demonstrators yesterday strongly disagreed. They said that the

strikes were indeed preemptive, and that police arrested people for what they

might do - and not for actual crimes.

The critics said the arrests of several protest leaders - "ringleaders," as

the District Attorney's Office termed them - were part of a pattern in which

police aimed to decapitate the leadership of the demonstrations. People

involved in the protests acknowledged that the arrests scrambled their

communications and reduced their effectiveness.

They said people had been arrested on false pretexts - especially during a

Tuesday raid on a West Philadelphia warehouse that was a key protest facility.

Then, they said, protesters were held behind bars for unusually long times,

thus keeping them off the streets.

As of early yesterday, they noted, police said only about 30 of 369 arrested

protesters had been released. Scores more were released later in the day, but

officials could provide no figures.

"The whole point of this is preventive - preventive detention. Get them all

off the streets until the Republicans are out of town," said Ann Northrup, an

AIDS activist from New York City with the group ACTUP. "It didn't matter if

they had done anything."

Her view was echoed by Larry Gross, a University of Pennsylvania

communications professor who served on a blue-ribbon panel critical of police

misconduct during a 1991 protest. Gross noted that police had been

photographing demonstrators in weeks before the Republican National


"They spied on the protest groups. I think they prepared a list of organizers

that they were looking for, and when they found them, they arrested them,"

Gross said.

Yet Stefan Presser, a leading critic of the warehouse raid as legal director

of the state's American Civil Liberties Union branch, said the Police

Department acted within the law if it targeted leaders preparing an

unpermitted and, hence, illegal demonstration.

He said helping organize an illegal demonstrations, such as by staying out of

the fray and directing others via cellular phone, was criminally no different

than blocking traffic.

"It's probably smart tactics," Presser said, referring to the selective

arrests. "And it probably succeeded, if you look at the speed at which the

city resumed to normalcy. I don't see that there's a constitutional question

here. It just makes good sense on the part of the department."

Apart from the protesters sitting on streets, police this week targeted

certain activists who they knew had been involved in past protests or who

simply looked as though they were organizing actions over a mobile phone.

The result was that scores of people, even medics and bicycle messengers

trying to do their jobs, were swept up in the search for a select few who may

have been pivotal to the protests.

Police interest in people with cellular phones and walkie-talkies led them to

detain and question several bicycle messengers over the last two days,

managers of several messenger firms said. Some were stopped going into Center

City office towers, others near hotels or on the street.

"They wanted to make sure he wasn't scoping out the area, or starting to

gather," Ted Teschner, general manager of Heaven Sent Couriers, said of an

employee who was stopped.

Police seemed to key on people carrying Nextel mobile phones, favored by

protest organizers because they cost about 5 each and permit users to

conduct mobile conference calls.

Activists said at least 15 important players had been arrested by police in

apparently targeted collars.

A similar police tactic was employed in Seattle late last fall and in

Washington, D.C., in April during crackdowns on disruptive protests there.

Temple University law professor Edward Ohlbaum said that million bail -

which was set in Sellers' case - for a misdemeanor charge is extraordinarily


Authorities provided few details of Sellers' allegedly illegal acts but did

say that at one point he chained himself to a trash barrel in order to

obstruct traffic.

Sellers, who has been unable to make bail, faces misdemeanor charges of

obstruction of justice, obstructing a highway, failure to disperse,

recklessly endangering another person, and conspiracy.

Sellers was also charged with possession with an instrument of crime, but

officials did not specify what that instrument was or at what point he was

using it. Colleagues said yesterday that he had been carrying only a Palm

Pilot and a cell phone at the time of his arrest.

Ohlbaum said he could not recall a previous case in which bail was set at

million for a misdemeanor.

Four other activists charged with assaults were held on lesser bails of

0,000 to 0,000.

Only one of the four, Darby Landy, 20, was charged with a felony. He was

charged with robbery and assault in connection with the heavily publicized

incident in which Timoney and other officers on bicycles were involved in a

fight a block from Rittenhouse Square. He was held on 0,000 bail.

Lawrence Krasner, a criminal defense lawyer in Center City representing

Sellers, said he was astounded at the high bail.

"The D.A.'s behavior is like nothing I've ever seen in my life," said

Krasner. "This is a desperate effort to systematically punish these people

without a trial, to lock them up, keep them off the streets."

When Davis, the AIDS activist, was arrested Tuesday, he was walking with

other activists on a blockaded Center City street - and talking on a Nextel.

It was not immediately known what he was charged with.

In a scene Tuesday captured by a videographer working for the protesters'

Independent Media Center, police rushed Davis from behind.

"Come on, you're coming with us," an officer is heard saying. At one point, a

supervisor says: "I want him out of here."

As Davis is pulled backward, he can be seen pushing buttons on his Nextel

even as a police supervisor reaches to grab it from him.

Then a voice, apparently that of a protester, says: "The Nextel! The Nextel!

Throw it! Throw it!"

Davis, who has been active for many years with ACTUP in Philadelphia and took

part in the mass protest in Washington earlier this year, tossed the phone

toward other protesters, but it slipped through several hands and tumbled to

the asphalt. A police supervisor, identifiable by his white shirt, kicked it

about 10 yards.

The phone ended up under a police cruiser.

While the state ACLU found the police targeted arrests defensible, Presser,

its legal director, joined other critics in assailing other parts of the

police operation.

He and others condemned Tuesday's police raid on a West Philadelphia

warehouse that served as a workshop for the satirical puppets and bizarre

headdresses that have become an odd hallmark of the theatrical street


Police, who said the building also stored materials to block streets,

arrested 70 people there - 20 percent of all those collared this week - thus

taking them out of action before the street protests began.

Timoney yesterday declined to say what objects had been seized in the raid.

The search warrant itself, signed Tuesday by a Municipal Court judge, and

related paperwork, including the police affidavit outlining probable cause

for the search, are under seal, barred from public inspection.

A judge sealed the file Tuesday at the request of the district attorney.

Presser and lawyers from the Public Defender's Office faulted the secrecy,

with Presser calling the arrest of those at the warehouse "bogus."

All were charged with misdemeanors.

The "decision to seal the warrant only strengthens my feeling that this whole

process was a pretext," he said. "It's not a question of national security,

or anything that requires ongoing investigation since these demonstrations

are at an end."

Once arrested, many suspects spent long hours in prison.

Court rules give police up to two days to hold suspects before a bail

hearing. And Timoney said many of those held for long periods had only

themselves to blame. By refusing to identify themselves, some protesters

slowed down the whole process, he said.

Philadelphia lawyer David Rudovsky, who specializes in civil-rights cases and

is representing some of the protesters, said some of the arraignments

definitely took too long.

"There's a fair number of people that have been identified and still haven't

been arraigned," Rudovsky said. "I think that's completely unfair."

Ohlbaum said long waits between arrest and release are common.

Even so, he said, many of the protesters received citations for minor

infractions, which he said "generally means that bail is not an issue and

everyone gets out."

One of those arrested at the West Philadelphia warehouse Tuesday, Milan

Marvelous, 31, said he was kept on a bus for nine hours, from 4 p.m. Tuesday

until 1 a.m. Wednesday, and then detained in a cell until he was released at

4 a.m.

"We were preventively arrested. We had done nothing wrong," said Marvelous,

of the Northern Liberties section of the city.

"We were detained many hours on incredibly hot buses with incredibly painful

cuffs," said Jeremy Varon, 32, a history professor at Rutgers University in

New Brunswick, also among those arrested at the puppet factory.
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