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Protesters Arrested in Zuccotti Park Raid Appear in Court

By DNAinfo Staff on January 20, 2012 12:37pm  | Updated on January 20, 2012 4:19pm

By Shayna Jacobs and Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Staff

LOWER MANHATTAN — City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and dozens of other Occupy Wall Street protesters arrested in the NYPD's Nov. 15 raid of Zuccotti Park appeared in Manhattan Criminal Court Friday, the first large round of court dates for the "eviction" arrests.

Of the roughly 60 cases heard Friday — which included a few protest cases unrelated to the raid — only one protester saw their case dismissed, because prosecutors were not prepared to bring the case to trial by the statutory deadline.

Rodriguez's case was adjourned to March 9, when he will face charges of resisting arrest and obstructing government administration, stemming from a confrontation with a police officer several blocks from Zuccotti Park during the late-night raid two months ago.

Rodriguez, who represents Washington Heights, vowed to continue fighting the charges all the way to trial if necessary.

"I was falsely arrested on that day," Rodriguez told reporters outside the courtroom Friday, wearing a button with the slogan, "You can't evict an idea."

"I would like to see justice done to every single person that was arrested as part of the movement."

Daniel Hupert, an attorney volunteering with the National Lawyers Guild and representing about 20 Occupy Wall Street protesters, submitted court papers arguing that the NYPD's clearing of Zuccotti Park was illegal.

"The eviction of Zuccotti Park was probably not lawfully done," Hupert said.

He has argued that the police did not have the authority to clear the privately owned park, which was required to be open to the public 24 hours a day.

"There's a legal issue here having to do with First Amendment rights and rights to free assembly," he added.  

During Friday's hearings, the majority of protesters turned down the DA's offer of a conditional dismissal, known as an ACD, which has been the standard offer throughout the movement to protesters charged with disorderly conduct and blocking traffic.

Under the terms of that offer, the case is dismissed after six months but can be reopened if the person is arrested again during that time.

Eight people who appeared Friday accepted the ACD, and two pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. The others have pre-trial motion dates pending, and prosecutors asked for a consolidation of many of the cases for the purpose of having multi-defendant trials instead of dozens of individual proceedings. 

The judge has not yet ruled on whether to allow the joining of the cases, and defense lawyers have an opportunity to oppose it in writing if they wish to.

Many protesters, especially those actively involved in the Occupy Wall Street marches, have been reluctant to take the conditional dismissal offer for fear of getting rearrested at a demonstration.

Lawyer Martin Leahy, who represented some of the defendants on Friday, said some of his clients have been hesitant to take the dismissal offer because they saw it as an admission of guilt even though it is not a plea.

"On one hand there's a fear of getting rearrested," Leahy said. "[And] they don't understand it's not an admission of anything."

Other clients who don't take the dismissal offer "are just dedicated to the cause," Leahy added.

Not counting Friday's numbers, about half of the 1,800 Occupy Wall Street arrests have been resolved in court — the majority of which were ACD acceptances, according to the Manhattan DA's office.

Rodriguez was not offered a conditional dismissal, and his attorney, Andrew Stoll, said his client looked forward to a trial where all the facts of the case would unfold in public, if it came to that.

"I'm hoping the DA's office will come to their senses and dismiss this case," Stoll said.

Rodriguez was arrested three blocks north of Zuccotti Park about 1 a.m. on Nov. 15 when he said a police officer tackled him and hit him with a baton as he tried to cross the street. He was held for 17 hours, unfairly longer than others he was arrested with as a form of punishment by police, his lawyer argued.

The NYPD gave a different account of Rodriguez's arrest, saying he ignored officers' orders and tried to walk through the metal barricades that blocked off the area around Zuccotti Park.

Stoll has argued the councilman's detainment was a false arrest and that police did not provide warning for the street closure when they put up barricades on the blocks around Zuccotti Park.

He also said there are open false arrest lawsuits against Rodriguez's arresting officers.

Anti-greed activist Billy Talen, aka Reverend Billy, also appeared in court Friday on disorderly conduct charges, stemming from an Occupy Wall Street protest in front of Goldman Sachs' Battery Park City headquarters Nov. 3.

Talen initially said he was ready to plead guilty, but when Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Neil Ross pressed him on the reason for his plea, Talen backed down.

"I will plead guilty, but I don't want to," said Talen, the self-described "comic preacher."

"Are you pleading guilty because you are in fact guilty?" Ross asked as part of the standard plea questioning. "The law requires me to have a basis on which I can accept a guilty plea."

After speaking to his attorney, Talen said he would not plead guilty to disorderly conduct after all. His case was adjourned to March 9.

"Amen! Not guilty," Talen said to other protesters, high-fiving them as he made his way down the center aisle of the small courtroom.