- L'Aura Montgomery
- Bill Durland (left) and Deputy Police Chief Steve Liebowitz talk nonviolent protest.
Seven peace marchers were arrested in the 2007 St. Patrick's Day parade, but only two will face a second trial.
In August, a jury couldn't decide whether seven peace marchers intentionally blocked the parade route. That sent the city attorney's office back to the meeting rooms to decide whom, if anyone, they could win a case against.
Last Thursday, the city informed defense attorney Greg Walta of the decision: Everyone is off the hook except Elizabeth Fineron and Eric Verlo.
The two face charges that they intentionally blocked the parade and disobeyed requests by police to move.
Why single them out?
Verlo suspects the city knows he and Fineron are the most likely to sue, probably for police brutality.
"If Elizabeth and I are found guilty, then we have less of a [civil] case," he says.
City spokesman John Leavitt says that's nonsense. He also doesn't believe the city prosecutors considered whether dragging out the case would keep the incident which became a public-relations disaster for the city when elderly arrestees were injured by police in the news.
"I think the city attorney likes to be shielded from the politics of different cases and situations," Leavitt says.
Be that as it may, many people want the case kept out of court, including City Council members such as Jan Martin and Jerry Heimlicher.
Prosecutors may be hoping they can move on without going to trial at all. According to Walta, Fineron and Verlo have been offered a deferred judgment, meaning they could plead guilty but avoid punishment if they don't re-offend within a set period of time. Assuming they follow guidelines, the charges would be cleared from their records.
If their cases go to court, Fineron and Verlo will request separate trials. Walta has said he will not defend the two in another trial, and new attorneys will replace him at the next pre-trial conference, scheduled for Oct. 17.
At that meeting, there could be changes in plea bargains offered to the pair, Leavitt says.
Still, everyone agrees that a trial seems likely. Verlo says he'd accept the deferred judgment only if police admit to wrongdoing in the arrest, and change their policies toward protesters.
"The police were abusive in their execution of this, so if I have the opportunity to hold their feet to the fire until they realize they're wrong, I'll do it," he says.
Fineron, who suffered abrasions when police dragged her from the parade route, says she's not giving up yet.
"If this is the decision [the city] wants to make, I'll go along with it," she says.
But Fineron says her health could prompt her to skip another trial and accept a deferred judgment. Fineron has a long list of health problems, including diabetes, neuropathy, heart problems, hearing loss and replaced hips and knees. She was recently hospitalized.
"This is not helping my health," she says.
Leavitt says a judge would likely consider Fineron's health in arranging the trial, and perhaps in sentencing if it comes to that. Jail time is possible, but Leavitt says it's highly unlikely.
Whatever the case, the St. Patrick's Day Two still have friends.
Bill Durland, one of the five defendants whose charges were dropped, says, "I certainly will give my help and support to the two that are going to be tried, if that comes to pass."
Looking ahead, not back
If there's one thing the city and activists agree on, it's that it'd be best to avoid fiascos such as the arrest of peace marchers at the 2007 St. Patrick's Day parade.
Last weekend, Bill Durland, one of the five marchers whose charges were recently dropped, held a three-day seminar on nonviolent activism at Broadmoor Community Church. The subject wasn't the parade, but of course, it came up.
"I doubt if we'd be here today if it weren't for the St. Patty's Day parade," said Colorado Springs City Councilor Jan Martin, who was among about 35 people in attendance Sunday morning.
Martin was more interested in preventing future problems than rehashing the past.
The same could be said for Police Chief Richard Myers. He told the crowd that he wants to increase communication between activist groups and police before protests take place.
"Just because you know you're a good guy, doesn't mean the officer knows that you don't pose a threat," he told the audience.
Meeting beforehand can prevent conflict, he said, noting that several recent protests that were pre-planned with police went smoothly.
The planning process, he added, should include a Plan A and Plan B, the "in case things get out of hand" plan. Police should also use meetings to designate "peacekeepers," activists who can help police defuse a situation before it leads to arrests or tear-gassing.
Deputy Chief Steve Liebowitz, who also attended the meeting, said over the past few months, he has been gathering with members of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission, members of which wound up at the center of the St. Patrick's Day controversy.
"What we're trying to do is build this level of trust," he says.
Those in attendance were warm to the plan, but cautious. Durland said planning doesn't always work. For instance, he said, police acted on hearsay from parade organizers when they arrested St. Patrick's Day marchers.
"That's something that comes between Plan A and Plan B," Durland said.
J. Adrian Stanley