RNC 8: Report from 4th day of hearings

Today was the fourth day of the RNC 8 hearings. Most of the day was spent questioning Sergeant Jay Maher of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department Defend the RNC 8Special Investigations Unit, who conducted extensive surveillance leading up to and following the RNC, worked with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department informants and supervised some of the raids. Chris Dugger, another Welcoming Committee informant, was unavailable to testify today, and will take the stand tomorrow morning.

Maher talked about the initiation of the investigation into the RNC WC. He said that as soon as the RNC was announced, they knew there would be protests and they were assigned to look into “open source” information to find out if there were indications that there would be illegal activity. They began the investigation by simply Googling RNC and related terms “to see what would come up.” They decided to investigate the Welcoming Committee based on posts on their website and the “We’re Getting Ready” video, which he said he found “disturbing.” He testified that he did not recognize it as satire. He saw it as an open invitation for protesters to use the tactics depicted in the video at the convention (one of the defense lawyers asked sardonically whether he was referring to the use of Molotov cocktails to light barbecue grills). Prosecutor Derek Fitch pointed to the fact that Molotov cocktails and shields were seized in advance of the convention from people from elsewhere who were not Welcoming Committee members as evidence that this was true.

Maher discussed a number of other groups that were surveilled or looked into in connection with the Welcoming Committee investigation, such as Sister’s Camelot (a free food distribution program), the Grease Pit (a free bike workshop), and Code Pink. Maher also surveilled members of the Welcoming Committee on a number of tour stops, including ones in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Maryland and California. When traveling to other states, they contacted local law enforcement and sometimes shared resources. The only stop where he reported there being a local undercover officer in attendance at the meeting was in Frederick, Maryland. It was also in Frederick that Maher asked the local police if they could stop Eryn and Garrett’s car for a traffic stop and use the opportunity to ID them and look inside the vehicle.

Maher was involved in the raid at the Convergence Space on August 29, 2008, and the raid at 3240 17th Ave. S (the residence of Monica, Eryn, and Garrett). He testified that the convergence space raid was planned at night for officer safety–there were about 68 people in the space when it was raided, and the darkness was meant to allow the police to sneak up unnoticed. He testified that at the Convergence Space raid, they took a lot of literature. When asked about weapons, he brought up poles, slingshots, a shield made of a construction barrel, and an aluminum bat labeled “Justice Factory.” He could not, however, tie any of these items to any of the defendants.

Much like previous witnesses, Maher admitted having little actual evidence of the defendants possessing dangerous weapons or making agreements to commit damage to property or injure persons, but wanted to paint a bigger picture of conspiracy. Fitch brought up the fact that the Welcoming Committee endorsed a diversity of tactics and refused to condemn or denounce illegal tactics. He attempted to draw connections between the defendants and other people who were convicted of crimes during the convention. Maher said that the two people from Texas who had attempted to use Molotov cocktails at the RNC, Bradley Crowder and David McKay, had attended a Welcoming Committee tour stop in Austin, Texas. He also testified that Dave Mahoney, Christina Vana, and Karen Meissner, all of whom were later convicted of assault during the RNC in an incident involving dropping a sandbag off of an overpass, were present during the house raid at Max’s residence.

Maher also testified that he attended the G20 protests in Pittsburgh, PA, and took photographs there. He denied that it was investigatory, and said that he was there to “observe and learn for our convention,” despite the fact that the G20 happened over a year after the RNC protests were over. He said that the fact that his photos contained a number of individuals present in the courtroom was purely happenstance.

When he finished his testimony, the court addressed some of the other motions that were not part of the Florence hearing. There were discussions about the subpoena of FBI informant Andrew Darst [a.k.a. “Panda”]. The defense had attempted to subpoena him, but could not reach him–despite the fact that he is still on the federal payroll, making $1,500 a month. The judge did not feel there was enough evidence to suggest he was dodging the subpoena. The prosecution challenged that the defense should not be allowed to question Darst for these hearings at all. Judge Warner wanted more time to think about these issues, and they will be discussed more tomorrow.

The motions for bail reduction were all denied, because Warner believed that circumstances had not changed significantly enough to warrant a change in the bail that was set. Bail remains at $10,000 each.

Court will continue tomorrow at 9 a.m.–please come out to show your support!

The fifth day of the hearings will be scheduled tomorrow.

For more detailed notes, see: http://rnc8.org/info/courtnotes

In solidarity,

The RNC 8 Defense Committee

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