28 Arrested During Annual Protest Weekend
Four protesters arrested and charged with federal trespass at Ft. Benning, Georgia on November 20 and 21 were in court on Tuesday, November 23. Arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Hyles, Nancy Smith and Christopher Spicer pled not guilty. Their trial is set for January 5. Fr. Louis Vitale, OFM and Michael David Omondi pled no contest and were sentenced to the maximum 6 months in jail (no fine). Both men were moved from a Georgia county jail on December 14 and 15. Omondi is in Atlanta, likely waiting transport. Vitale was moved to Victorville, California on December 16.
Until we know that both men are at their final destination, cards and letters to David may be sent to his community for forwarding: The Los Angeles Catholic Worker, 632 N. Brittania St., Los Angeles, CA 90033. Louie’s mail may be send to the Nuclear Resister for forwarding at P.O. Box 43383, Tucson, AZ 85733. When they reach their final prison assignment, those addresses will be posted at http://www.nukeresister.org/inside-out/.
The four were arrested at the annual protest and vigil to close the U.S. Army’s Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly know as the School of the Americas.
On Saturday, November 20, 24 others were arrested on city and state charges, including unlawful assembly, failure to disperse, and parading without a permit. Some were blockading the road leading into Ft. Benning with a sign that read, “Stop: This is the End of the Road for the SOA”. People not intending to risk arrest were among those swept up, including members of the press, protesters walking back to their cars and a Columbus, Georgia resident who came out of a barber shop to take a photo of the protest. There was also at least one undercover police officer arrested with the protesters but not charged, who later testified against the group in court. Legal observers report that four other people believed to be undercover officers were apprehended during the chaotic arrest scene on Saturday, but never brought to jail or charged.
On Sunday, November 21, Columbus Recorder’s Court Judge Michael Cielinski found 22 of the 24 who were arrested by the city guilty on all charges. The remaining two were convicted following a bench trial the next day. All were released from jail by Monday, with fines and bonds exceeding $75,000 (which does not include appeals). They still must also answer state charges, and expect to be arraigned in January.
Contributions are still needed to help with fines and court costs. For more information about the Ft. Benning protest, and to contribute to the legal defense fund, visit www.soaw.org.
Joshua McElwee blogged about the event at the National Catholic Reporter online.
The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer has published a report on the city court proceedings, available here.
SOAW gratefully received extraordinary solidarity in raising the money needed through loans and donations to release everyone arrested Saturday, November 20, during the annual protest and vigil to close the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas. People were trickling out of the jail until 4 AM Monday morning, November 22. Close to $30,000 was raised in an extremely short amount of time, unprecedented for SOAW. Contributions are still needed to help pay fines and defend those facing charges in both state and federal courts.
Please visit Inside and Out for prisoners’ addresses.