Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Herring forces protesters to provide cover for police

Michael N. Herring has done Bob McDonnell's dirty work for him.

How questionable was the arrest and mistreatment of thirty women's rights protesters on Virginia's capitol steps on March 3, 2012? The charges were so thin that Richmond's Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring felt the need to prop up the charges by forcing the protesters to sign statements conceding that the capitol and state police were acting within the law when they arrested the protesters.
The deal, approved last month by Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring and the five attorneys representing the defendants, called for the defendants to sign an agreement conceding police were acting within the law when they arrested the protesters. The 30 also were required to pay court costs _ generally $77 _ per defendant _ perform 25 hours of community service at a nonprofit of their choice and remain on good behavior between now and Sept. 21.

The 30 were also charged originally with one count each of unlawful assembly, but those charges were dismissed at a May 25 hearing.

The 30 were among several hundred people who attended a rally at the Capitol protesting legislation including a bill requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion. Those arrested had been sitting on the building's South Portico steps and refused to leave after being told three times that they risked arrest if they stayed.
Read the rest of the story at the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Herring should be embarrassed; he should have used his prosecutorial discretion to dismiss these flimsy, trumped up charges. The protesters were in a public space protesting peacefully. The General Assembly was not in session on that Saturday and was in no way disrupted by the demonstration. How can you trespass on public property that is open to the public when you are there during the hours that the public space is open?

Less than a week later a group of women brought their children to the capitol steps and ate lunch while sitting as a group in precisely the same place the protesters had occupied. The capitol police left them alone and when asked why they didn't call out the SWAT team to crush this second group of protesters, the capitol police's spokesperson lamely said that the second group of women were having a picnic and that was okay.

So the reason the March 3rd protesters were arrested was that they forgot to bring picnic baskets? Really? Really Michael Herring? Because of prosecutors and judges in cases like this one, we are sliding into a police state where police can just make up laws as they go along.

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