Saturday, February 2, 2008

Citizens Prosecuted For Peaceful Protest In DuPage County, IL

The Tale of The Dupage Two
by Jeff Zurawski

On May 6th, 2007 my friend Sarah Hartfield 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 tried to explain our display’s intended message; that our country is in distress because our leaders have betrayed us. The angry Deputy wouldn't hear it.

Two other officers took our personal information and checked it out on the computer back at their squad car. We were released shortly after that.

Before we left, the irate Deputy threatened to arrest us then said he'd be sure to 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 a traffic disturbance because unknown objects were being thrown from the walkway and displaying the American flag in an upside down manner.



United States Code, Title 36, Chapter 10, Section 176, Paragraph A - Respect For The Flag; "The flag should never be displayed with the Union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property."


We’ve been to court seven 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 original charge. Sarah and I refused the offer and demanded a jury trial, which was scheduled for October 15th, then postponed indefinitely.

In the days leading up to the trial, our lawyers filed a motion to quash the 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 because we alarmed and disturbed someone by making throwing motions toward traffic. That 'someone' is a trucker who drove past our protest display and called 911 to report two people standing on the bridge with signs acting like they're throwing things.

The hearing is scheduled for February 28th, 2008. In the unlikely event we're not successful with the motion to quash, we will have to defend ourselves on trial at a later date.

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. We Will Not Back Down.

UPDATE (02/02/08): The court file shows the prosecution has subpoenaed the angry Sheriff's Deputy to testify in court. Our lawyers are calling the truck driver to be a witness for our side. This could be very interesting! Stay tuned....

UPDATE (02/16/08): A demonstration to show support for Jeff & Sarah and Free Speech Rights has been scheduled for Tuesday February 26th, 8-9:30am.

demo handout:

UPDATE (02/26/08)

Free Speech Advocates Brave Winter Storm To Save Bill Of Rights
posted 12:15pm 02.26.08by EF Swagee

The bone-chilling bluster that accompanied Chicagoland's latest winter storm did not keep dedicated free speech advocates from exercising the First Amendment outside the DuPage County criminal court building this morning.

The group of eight demonstrators included members of Dupage Peace Through Justice Coalition, DuPage Against War Now, and Women In Black.

Some held signs reading, "Dissent Is Patriotic", "Resist Illegitimate Authority", and "This Is Free Speech". Others distributed leaflets with information about an ongoing legal battle between DuPage County law enforcement officials and local peace activists; Jeff Zurawski of Downers Grove and Sarah Hartfield of Naperville, aka "The DuPage Two", who were arrested weeks after they displayed an IMPEACH Bush & Cheney banner while standing on a public walkway above Interstate 355 in un-incorporated Lombard.

News about the DuPage Two case has been reported in mainstream publications like the The Daily Herald, Chicago Suburban News, and The Chicago Tribune. It’s made its way around the internet, too, at: ChicagoFreeSpeechZone, The Progressive, Crooks & Liars, Freeway Blogger, MichaelMoore.com, After Downing Street, and other sites.

The activists who braved the arctic tundra-like wind chill say the case, which is up for a hearing this Thursday on the defendants' motion to quash the arrest warrants, is very important because it strikes at the 1st Amendment’s core.

Kevin Lindemann, co-chair of the DuPage Peace Through Justice Coalition said, "I try to follow these cases, and I must say, I have never heard of one quite like this. Peace activists are bannering over expressways all across the country, and generally there are no problems with the police,as long as the banners are held and not attached to public property andnot dangled in a way that they could fall on to the expressway."

Some heated verbal exchanges between demonstrators and passersby provided warmth for the participants, no doubt. Paul Kreft of Downers Grove was holding an anti-war placard when a sharply dressed, middle-aged man, a lawyer perhaps, questioned his support for our troops in Iraq. Kreft told the court-goer that he wants the troops home now. With crude eloquence, the man replied, "Shut your fucking pie hole!"

The Collins Law Firm in Naperville, IL is representing the DuPage Two pro-bono. Attorney Julie Anderson said today that Jeff and Sarah will not be put on the stand to testify at the hearing. She also mentioned that the Sheriff's Deputy who filed the charges is a witness for the prosecutors and the truck driver who called 911 is a witness for the DuPage Two. Hmmmmm?

Those who would like to express their opinions regarding the case may wish to contact the DuPage County State’s Attorney:

Joseph Birkett, State’s Attorney
503 N. County Farm Rd. Wheaton, IL 60187
(630) 407-8000
630-407-8151 (fax)
stsattn@dupageco.org

UPDATE (02/28):
The case has been continued. Again.
Although today's hearing was scheduled back in mid-December, the state claimed it was not prepared to proceed this morning.
Their witness, the irate Sheriff's Deputy who filed charges against the DuPage Two, was a no show, despite having been subpoenaed. According to the assistant state's attorney handling the case for the state, he retired and is currently in Florida.
The next hearing is scheduled for April 10.

UPDATE (03/05/08):

Hearing postponed for protesters
By Dan Petrella, dpetrella@mysuburbanlife.com GateHouse News ServiceMon Mar 03, 2008, 12:17 PM CST

DuPage County, IL -A pair of anti-war protesters facing disorderly conduct charges will have to wait until at least April to find out if a DuPage County judge will dismiss the charges against them.

Jeff Zurawski, 39, of Downers Grove and Sarah Hartfield, 45, of Naperville were arrested in May, a few weeks after displaying a sign reading “Impeach Bush and Cheney — Liars” and an upside-down U.S. flag on the Great Western Trail bridge over Interstate 355. It is alleged that either Zurawski or Hartfield made a throwing motion toward the highway while standing on the bridge.


The two defendants deny the allegations and are seeking to have the charges against them dismissed. They appeared Thursday in DuPage County Circuit Court, accompanied by about a dozen supporters. Their attorney, Shawn Collins, was prepared to argue a motion to quash their arrest and dismiss the charges.


Judge Michael Burke and the state’s attorney’s office were unclear on the wording of Collins’ motion and its intent. After clarifying that Collins was seeking to have the charges dismissed, Burke continued the case to April 10.


Had a hearing on the motion occurred, Collins would have argued that his clients were arrested without probable cause.


The prosecution’s key witness, former DuPage sheriff’s deputy Dennis Rogers, was summoned to appear Thursday but was not present in court. Rogers has retired and moved to Florida.Without his testimony, Collins argued that the prosecution had no case and charges should be dismissed.


Due to the lack of clarity in the defense’s motion, Burke decided to give the state’s attorney’s office time to contact Rogers and ensure his presence at the April court date.


“If officer Rogers doesn’t show up, the state can’t prove that the arrest was made with probable cause, and the case should be thrown out,” Collins said after the hearing. “Our belief remains that this case never should have been prosecuted.”

UPDATE (04/02/08):

A rally to show support for Jeff Zurawski & Sarah Hartfield and the 1st Amendment will take place outside building 505 at the DuPage Co. court complex Tuesday April 8th, 8:00 - 9:30 am. Organizers are asking all Free Speech advocates to attend and help raise public awareness about DuPage County law enforcement officials' attack on civil liberties.

** Organizers remind all attendees the demonstration will be held outside a very busy public workplace. Participants must be peaceful and respectful toward the public at all times during the event.

UPDATE (04/13/08):

DuPage Free Speech Case NOT Dismissed, Trial Date Set For June 9th

As you may have heard by now or read about in the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, Sun-Times Publications, and Suburban Life, the hearing last Thursday didn’t go as we hoped it would.

We maintain, and our lawyer Shawn Collins argued, the police had no probable cause to arrest us. The judge disagreed, presumably based on testimony given by the State’s only witness, Charles Hardin, the truck driver who called 911 after he drove past Sarah and I demonstrating. A tape recording of Mr. Hardin’s 911 call was played in court. Here’s the transcript:

Zurawski/Hartfield 911 Call May 6, 2007
Operator: 911.
Hardin: Yeah, I’d like to report uh, I’ve got two youths ... I’m going southbound on 355 at the 26th and a half mile marker 26th ½ to 27 mile marker. There’s a bridge that goes over 355 I’ve got two youths up there hanging a bunch of uh, a bunch of junk that looks like they’re hanging shit off of that bridge.
Operator: Let’s see, what road is that north of?
Hardin: Uh, I believe that would be north of Roosevelt?
Operator: Okay, do you have it kind of by that train bridge that goes overhead there? Like the prairie path possibly?
Hardin: Right, right. It’s north of the train bridge. You can see the train bridge if you’re going underneath the bridge that they’re standing on and it would be in between Roosevelt and North Avenue. [pause] It looks like it’s a pedestrian walkway.
Operator: Yeah. And do you have any idea what they were hanging off of it?
Hardin: It looked like they had maybe some flags or something they were hanging off of it. And they were acting like they were throwing stuff at the windshields and, I-I didn’t have anything hit my windshield but, you know, I’m a uh, I’m on my way to work right now, I’m a truck driver and whenever I see that that kind of scares me because...
Operator: Right.
Hardin: I’ve seen a lot of people get injured real, really bad from, you know, kids tossing rocks and other stuff off the bridges.
Operator: Uh-hum. What’s your last name?
Hardin: My last name is Hardin. H-A-R-D-I-N.
Operator: First name?
Hardin: Charles.
Operator: And your phone number is _______?
Hardin: Yes.
Operator: Okay, we will go ahead and get them out there.
Hardin: Thank you very much.
Operator: No problem.
Hardin: Bye.

Considering that Sarah and I did not have our signs “hanging off that bridge” and did not act like we were “throwing stuff at the windshields,” it’s inconceivable we were arrested on a disorderly conduct charge alleging we “knowingly without a county permit, staged a war protest on the Great Western Trail overpass in unincorporated DuPage County, Illinois causing the vehicles on the highway (I355) to swerve causing a traffic disturbance because unknown objects were being thrown on the expressway, as well as the American flag being displayed in an upside down manner from the overpass.”

Bewildered? Me, too!

Even more astonishing than the fact that Charles Hardin’s false report to 911 contradicts the false charge on which Sarah and I were arrested, is that Hardin testified under oath on Thursday that he “observed everyone trying to get out of the middle lane. It was an erratic -- not normal -- traffic pattern.” And that, “We came almost to a crawl.” Both statements are false.

Remembering that over a million innocent people have been senselessly killed or injured and millions more have fled their homes to escape the extreme violence in Iraq during the U.S.-led “war” that started based on a pack of lies, I suppose a prosecution without merit shouldn’t surprise.

The judge set a trial date for Monday, June 9th. We’ll probably have another rally on the Thursday or Friday before then. In the meantime, we’ll be speaking at the next http://www.d-a-w-n.org/ and at the http://www.yorkdemocrats.org/index.php. Please join us if you’d like to discuss the case’s latest developments.

As Always, Keep the Faith!
-Jeff

UPDATE (05/11/08):

http://gratefuldissident.blogspot.com/2008/05/injustice-in-dupage-county.html

UPDATE (05/28/08)

Memorial Days
By Jeff Zurawski

May 25th, 2008 marked the one-year anniversary of the day I was arrested several weeks after expressing a political opinion on a public walkway above a highway in DuPage County, IL. The completely bogus misdemeanor charge alleges I committed the offense of “disorderly conduct” because I “knowingly without a county permit, staged a war protest...causing a traffic disturbance because unknown objects were being thrown on the expressway, as well as the American flag being displayed in an upside down manner…”

( Click Here to read the whole story from its beginning. )

With strong support from our community, local activist groups, the international net-roots society, and the Collins Law Firm we’re still fighting the malicious prosecution, which has now entered its second year.

Over the holiday weekend, I exercised my recently regained freedom to leave the State of Illinois and visited a friend up in Wisconsin. Mostly I fished for walleyes and hunted for morel mushrooms.

I did make time to think about more important things like the death and suffering caused by the US-led military invasion of Iraq:

4084 U.S. troops have been killed and over 30,000 wounded. Department of Veterans’ Affairs co-coordinators have identified approximately 1,000 suicide attempts per month by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans under VA care. Roughly eighteen veterans commit suicide every week. 1.6 million (approx. 18-20%) veterans of those wars are suffering from psychological problems.

Depending on which source you believe, the number of Iraqi civilians who’ve died violently since 2003 US-led military invasion is approximately 84,000, between 104,000-223,000, nearly 655,000, or over 1.2 million. An estimated 5 million Iraqis have fled their homes due to violence.

Simply staggering, especially knowing all that death and suffering resulted from unnecessary war of choice based on a pack of lies. Want to know more about Iraq war lies? Here’s a handy electronic gadget created by Mother Jones magazine: Lie by Lie Timeline.

Crossing the Illinois state line on my way back home, I remembered that I have a court date coming up on June 9th, 9:30am, building 505, room 4007 at the DuPage County court complex in Wheaton, IL. The case is set to go to trial. The trial won’t start until 1:30pm or later.

This whole situation is even more ironic after learning more about how it developed during the last hearing on April 10th when our lawyer argued there was no “probable cause” for our arrests.

In our case, the arresting officer established probable cause when he confirmed a motorist called 911 to report he was scared because he saw us “acting like they were throwing stuff at the windshields” then confirmed that allegation was at least possible when he responded to the call and saw us standing on the bridge.

In the United States of America, where freedom reigns, the Constitution’s 1st Amendment guarantees us the Right to express a political opinion in public. As citizens, it’s our duty to exercise that Right, especially when our government lies and leads us in the wrong direction. If you exercise that Right in DuPage County, IL you might find yourself arrested, jailed, and forced to defend yourself in court against criminal charges based solely on someone’s lies.

Worse yet, after we win the case (and I’m sure we will, eventually), the sickness that motivates a citizen to call 911 with a totally fake story to harass fellow citizens won’t magically disappear, nor will the sicknesses that cause law enforcement officials to pursue malicious prosecutions or governments to wage wars of aggression.

Please Keep The Faith!

UPDATE (06/13/08)

The trial has been postponed again. We were in court on Monday, ready to proceed, but a case ahead of ours went to trial. Since there wasn't enough time for two trials in one day, ours was bumped off the list. The judge set a new date for August 20 @ 09:30. He said it was "firm", so we shouldn't get bumped again.

UPDATE (08/21/08)

C A S E C L O S E D !!

Get Links To Latest Press Reports Here

UPDATE (08/27/08)

Falsely Arrested Protester Seeks Apology From Dupage County:

http://gratefuldissident.blogspot.com/2008/08/falsely-arrested-anti-war-protester.html

7 comments:

Steve Alesch said...

Jeff and Sarah,
We support you! Keep up the fight! We've updated our "Free Jeff and Sarah" website at http://www.votesteve.org/jeffandsarah.shtml

--
Steve Alesch, Green Party Nominee for Congress (IL-13)
http://www.votesteve.org

End the corporate controlled monopoly of our government, media, and
the Republican and Democratic Parties!

Vote Green Party on November 4th, 2008!

It's time to move from activist politics to electoral politics
with a party you won't have to endlessly beg to do what's best
for the people! Use your activist energy to help get Greens elected
or better yet, run for office as a Green yourself!

Wasting your vote is voting for the lesser of two evils!
Vote your hopes, not your fears!

Stringed said...

If the complainant was a no-show, why didn't the judge dismiss the whole thing?
I hope Jeff & Sarah sue the pants off of DuPage county (for denying their civil rights).

patrickfkelly said...

Impeach Birkett!

Dave said...

This pretty obviously a politically motivated prosecution intended to send a message to anyone who might want to dissent. Unfortunately, telling Joe Birkett and Sheriff Zaruba what we think of it will not do any good. I'm pretty sure they don't care. What needs to be done is for the appropriate oversight body(ies) begin an investigation into the Sheriff's office and the prosecutors office, to determine if they violated any laws. But I have no idea who to contact to bring this to their attention. Can someone post some resources? Should we contact our state senators or reps.?

Eric Roberts said...

I just got the word that tyhe case was dismissed. Congrats guys!!!! I would like to thank you guys for standing your ground and fighting this. Thanks for defending our freedom. You guys are true patriots!

Eric

Bridget said...

This is WONDERFUL news! I am so, so, so happy to hear it!!!

CONGRATULATIONS!!! You should be very proud of yourselves for keeping up the fight and NOT backing down!!

Anonymous said...

I personally know that Charles Hardin and he's a compulsive liar through and through. I found out about what he did to these people and even though he acted remorseful, he continued to lie to me about everything. He just likes to lie. And funny how the cops just loved harassing the innocent. You all should sue CH and the cops.