Published: Wednesday, May 22, 2002
1 convicted in May Day '01 protest
By Wendy Thomas Russell
LONG BEACH - In the first verdicts to come out of last year's May Day
protest on Ocean Boulevard, jurors on Tuesday acquitted two people of
failure to disperse and convicted a third of unlawful assembly and wearing a
mask with the intent to commit a crime.
Sarah Roberts, 26, the only one convicted, was handcuffed and taken into
sheriff's custody after the verdicts were read. Over the strong objection of
her attorney, Roberts was also ordered held on 0,000 bail until her
sentencing, which is scheduled for Thursday.
The other two defendants, Penelope Gronbeck and Carlos Contreras, were not
in Long Beach Superior Court to hear the verdicts. It was a retrial for
One juror, who spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity, said the jury likely
would have acquitted all three defendants if it hadn't been for a defense
witness, whose testimony - ironically - gave jurors the evidence they needed
to convict Roberts.
"I didn't think the prosecution proved its case," the juror said. Until the
defense witness took the stand, he said, "I was really convinced that this
was going to be an open-and-shut case."
Specifically, he said, the witness made it clear that Roberts wore a mask
and was "an active participant" in the May Day demonstration - which, he
said, "wasn't just a peaceful protest." Jurors also seemed to accept the
defense arguments that Contreras was an onlooker who got too close to the
action, and that Gronbeck was an aspiring journalist videotaping the
While convicted of two counts, Roberts was acquitted of another five,
including riot, rout and conspiracy to commit riot. And the juror
interviewed said Long Beach police may not have issued a clear enough order
"It was difficult to decide what our (definition) of an unlawful assembly
was," he said. "What's our riot, and what's our rout?"
City Prosecutor Tom Reeves, whose office handled the bulk of the cases
stemming from the May Day rally, said he didn't agree with the jury's
decision but was satisfied with his office's overall conviction rate: 97
Roberts, Contreras and Gronbeck were the last three defendants of nearly 100
adults and juveniles charged in connection with the protest. Fifty-eight
adults took misdemeanor plea bargains, ending in sentences ranging from
probation to 45 days in jail, and two took felony plea bargains. In
addition, 27 juveniles were charged, although most were released into the
custody of their parents, and one case was dismissed by prosecutors, Reeves
Last year's demonstration ended in a violent clash between police and
protesters after about 125 self-described anarchists, dressed in black and
protesting a number of issues, took to the streets of downtown Long Beach
behind a banner reading "Capitalism Stole My Life."
Outnumbered nearly 2-1 by police, protesters marched down Pine Avenue and
onto Ocean Boulevard, where a dispersal order was followed closely by a hail
of rubber bullets fired from police rifles. Prosecutors argued that police
fired in response to rocks being thrown at officers. Protesters complained
that police used excessive force.
At least 100 people were arrested, and police said they found backpacks
filled with claw hammers, ball bearings, M-80s and baggies containing human
feces, among other things.
The jurors in the criminal case were never asked to decide who was to blame
for the violence, but another jury may get the chance: Last month, eight
arrestees filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against the city of Long
Beach claiming police brutality.
On Tuesday, Roberts' attorney, Ellen Hammill Ellison, condemned Judge
Bradford Andrews for setting her client's bail at 0,000. She said the
amount was much too high, given that Roberts was convicted of misdemeanor
crimes and had attended court every day of the trial. Ellison also argued
that her client would go on a hunger strike if she couldn't get served vegan
dishes in jail.
Refusing to lower bail was "the most egregious thing that happened this
morning," she said, vowing to take the matter to a higher court. "This is a
gentle soul whose main thrust in life is animal rights."
Andrews said the bail was justified given that Roberts has been convicted
and faces up to a year in jail and ,000 in fines.