(Update, and a Note from Scarlet: if these two spend so much as a day in jail I'm going there personally and making DuPage County look like Woodstock.)
Though nearly six months have passed since the beginning of this ongoing tale, it’s still hard for me to believe assaults on our Bill of Rights are happening right here in the “land of the free”, the place where “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Back on May 6th, my friend Sarah and I peaceably assembled on a public walkway above a highway and exercised our freedom of speech. We displayed a homemade sign that read, “IMPEACH! Bush & Cheney – LIARS” alongside my U.S. flag (which hung Union side down to signal distress) for an hour and a half or so before an Illinois State Police officer arrived. He politely asked us to remove our display after expressing his concern that it might distract motorists and increase the risk of an accident happening. We took down our signs and were just about to leave when three DuPage County Sheriff’s Deputies arrived and detained us. One Deputy, obviously angry based on his tone of voice and facial expressions, said he’d received a call that Sarah and I were throwing things onto the highway. He described our peaceful protest as “mayhem”, then told us he was a Veteran, had a son fighting in Afghanistan, and that our protest was disrespectful of the troops. We denied the false accusation about throwing stuff and attempted to explain our display’s intended message; that we’re experiencing an instance of dire distress because our leaders have betrayed us. We gave the officers our personal information. They investigated for a short while, and then released us without a citation. Before we left, the angry Deputy said he wanted to arrest us, would call the State’s Attorney, and that he hoped to see us again soon. I was arrested three weeks later and jailed for over seven hours. Sarah turned herself in a few days after that. We were charged with ‘disorderly conduct’ for allegedly breaching the peace by staging an anti-war protest without a permit and creating traffic disturbance because unknown objects were being thrown from the walkway and displaying the American flag in an upside down manner.
We’ve been to court five times since then. Along the way, two additional more serious counts ('reckless conduct 'and 'unauthorized display of sign', each punishable by up to a year in jail and $2500 in fines) were added to the original charge. The prosecutors offered us a plea bargain in which they’d drop the two extra charges in return for a guilty plea and 90 days court supervision on the first charge. Sarah and I refused the offer and demanded a jury trial. In the days leading up to our October 15th trial, our lawyers filed a motion to quash our arrests. As a result, the prosecutors dropped the “reckless conduct” and “unauthorized display of sign” charges and added a new “disorderly conduct” charge alleging we breached the peace by making throwing motions toward traffic. A hearing on that motion was scheduled for mid-December.
Sarah and I will not admit to doing anything we did not do, especially committing non-existent crimes. The only thing we’re guilty of is exercising the First Amendment. We demonstrated peacefully and well within our Constitutional Rights. We didn’t throw anything. We didn’t pretend to throw anything. And there were no traffic disturbances. Try as they may, the prosecutors won’t get a plea bargain out of us. Our heels are dug in deeply. With your support and our expert legal team behind us, we’re confident we will win this battle for Free Speech.
Our next hearing is at the DuPage County Criminal Court at 505 N. County Farm Rd in Wheaton, IL on December 13th, 2007, 9:30am, in Room 4007.