On Tuesday August 22, after nine months of legal wrangling, I was found not guilty for two counts of “interfering with the duties of a peace officer”. Here’s how I won.
Many of you are probably aware of the origins of this trial and these accusations, but I will restate it in brief for those who are just joining us. Basically, on November 15, 2016 I was in downtown Houston documenting a local protest in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. After two hours of peaceful marches, songs, and prayers, I witnessed a Houston Police Department officer violently accost and attempt to arrest a man. Several individuals began calling out the police for the aggressive actions. I immediately crossed the street to voice my opposition and to film the entire situation. (For a more in depth look at these charges, please see this piece)
After several intense moments of dodging the police, continuing to film the arrests (another man was also arrested in the process), and exercising my freedom of speech, the officers began to point at me and ask the other officers to arrest me. I quickly left the area and days later a warrant was issued for my arrest. I have been fighting the charges since. But now I am a free man, found not guilty, I am no longer facing county jail time or a fine.
Since Texas is one of few states where a defendant has the option to pursue a jury trial for misdemeanor cases, I opted to plead my case to a jury of my peers. In the end this was the best move I could have made. Ultimately, however, this victory comes from the excellent performance of my lawyer, Brian Harrison. He guided me through the process and kept me informed of the risks every time I chose to reject the state’s offer. When I made it clear to him that I did not want to accept anything less than a dismissal he fought for me. Thank you for that Brian.
I consider my trial to be a part of the larger “Never Take a Plea” movement which calls on individuals accused of minor (victimless) crimes to take their cases to trial. Rather than letting the State continue to extort money and time from people and scaring them into a plea deal which typically includes probation (i.e., more subjugation to the state), the idea is to make the State work for it. Often, the cases will be dismissed before ever making it to trial, or, as in my case, the jury will find in favor of the defendant.
I understand that some individuals might not be able to take their case to trial. The charges may include a much larger prison sentence and the risk may be too high. For my case, the maximum was up to 90 days in the county jail. This is not the most time I have ever faced so I decided to fight. Even when the State indicated that they wanted to file “enhancements” on my charges for a felony I received 9 years ago, the punishment was still between 30 to 180 days in the county. I decided this was a risk I was willing to take. Especially after the State’s offer went from 45 days to 30 to 15 to a $500 fine to time served, I figured they knew there was no case and my chances were good. This is the approach I chose. And it was successful. It’s up to each individual to decide what is best for them. I encourage you to look into this strategy.
Thanks to everyone who supported me. Below you will find a play by play of the two day trial and some final closing thoughts.
Day 1 Monday August 21
Our trial began on Monday August 21 with a jury selection. This was another key element in the victory. Our side was very aware that given the nature of my charge (and my words during the event) we did not want a jury that favored police or the state. We needed as much of an anti-authoritarian jury as possible. Or at least one with little trust of these institutions. In Texas, you select a jury 0f 6 from a pool of 21 people. The State and the Defense are allowed to ask questions to gauge responses and temperament of the potential jurors. Our questions were aimed at ferreting out those who had reservations about police and those who favored free speech. We were successful.
After jury selection ended on Monday afternoon, the State and Defense made their opening arguments. Following opening statements, the State called their first and only witness, Sgt. C. Cosper. This is the officer who alleged that I “scratched his thumb” and/or “swatted” his hand away. He also accused me of “charging” at the officers. Since it was the State making the accusations, they had the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I did indeed do these things.
Sgt. C. Cosper was not very comfortable on the witness stand. He fumbled with his words and did not speak confidently. During the State’s questions the jury was played footage from two different police body cameras. I believe the State thought this would bolster their case against me, however, it seemed to have the opposite effect. The jurors were obviously upset at seeing these two young black men arrested for “abusive language” and simply standing around. On cross examination, Mr. Harrison took a moment to question C. Cosper on his role in the “Special Response Group”, a private group that focuses on protesters and protests. The State did not like this exposure and repeatedly objected to the line of questioning. The judge agreed and sustained the objections. This was fairly standard throughout the case. Especially during my time on the stand.
At the end of day 1, the State attempted to play my own video of the incident, but there was some confusion as to the labeling of evidence. The judge called for a recess for the day and we reconvened around 10 am on Tuesday.
Day 2 – August 22, 2017
When we returned to the courtroom the first thing the State did was play my recording of the incident. They seemed certain this would be all the evidence they needed for a conviction. Yes, I do in fact cuss and scream at the officers in the video, but I never touched them or grabbed them or attempted to grab their weapons.
One of the arguments the State made was that there was a possibility that I would grab C. Cosper’s firearm. They kept stressing to the jurors that Cosper’s “pistol side” was up, facing me, and I could have potentially taken the weapon. Despite me saying twice, “I will disarm you”, or “We will disarm you”, I had no intention of grabbing his or any other officers gun. Mr. Harrison did an excellent job making it clear to the jury that at no point did I actually make a move towards the officers weapon.
After C. Cosper was dismissed, a local activist by the name of Diana took the stand in my defense. After Diana took her time to explain the scene and answered our questions, the State had their time to question and attempt to shake her up. Following Diana’s testimony, I was put on the stand for questioning from both sides for about a half hour. I remained calm and poised throughout the questions and not once was the state able to make me stumble in my answers. I believe this greatly affected the jury’s decision.
After I was excused from the stand, our side made our closing arguments and then the State made their final pleas for a conviction. After about two and a half hours the jury had reached a verdict. My lawyer, my partner, and three supportive friends hustled back into the courtroom to hear the ruling. After a few anxiety filled moments the verdict was read aloud – Not Guilty! – and I remained a free man.
I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who called the District Attorney’s office, those who came to court, anyone who shared my videos and articles about the case, and those random people who decided to hold a jury nullification rally the morning of my trial!
Some more thoughts from the trial:
– At one point the State threatened another interference charge after accusing me of sharing (or planning to) police officers addresses, phone numbers, etc. However, I never said I would share this info. I asked who was willing to do flyering near the homes of two officers who forced a woman to undergo a roadside cavity search. This was totally unrelated to my case and an obvious threat.
– Once again it was confirmed that the Houston Police Department monitor my personal Facebook page. I also learned they watch The Conscious Resistance page, youtube, and website. I have known since 2012 they were monitoring me and The Houston Free Thinkers.
– A friend over heard the State’s attorney tell my lawyer, “I am sure we will see your client soon.” Was that meant to be a threat? Does he expect the cops to arrest me?
– I find it a bit ridiculous that the State can enhance my charges based off a felony arrest in 2005 and a DWI in 2008. I did my time, leave me alone and stop judging me for my past. Good thing the jury saw right through it.