At Arraignment Court in St. Paul

With close to 300 protestors arrested so far during the Republican National Convention, the ACLU of Minnesota volunteer attorneys have had their work cut out for them representing people at their arraignments (where arrestees plead "guilty" or "not guilty" to the charges against them). For two days, attorneys from the Public Defender’s office, volunteers with the ACLU of Minnesota and attorneys from the Minnesota Chapter of the National Lawyer’s Guild have been on hand to make sure that every arrestee has the benefit of an attorney for their arraignment.

The overall atmosphere at the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center is almost surreal. The building’s normal security has been amped up to the point that the entire facility is surrounded by 8- or 9-foot-high chain-link fencing. The perimeter is patrolled by the National Guard, (I'm guessing, I didn't ask), and you have to pass through a security checkpoint to get within the fenced-in perimeter. Attorneys with their driver’s license and attorney license are allowed to enter with their briefcase but no cell phone. Everybody else must present their ID and they are not allowed to have any bags or other property. Once inside the perimeter, you walk down a fenced corridor to the main doors where you are greeted with another checkpoint where you again show your IDs and have your bag and shoes run through an X-ray machine. As I walked the fenced corridor for the first time, I though how ironic it was that this center routinely houses people who are accused of murder and other horrible violent crimes, all without these massive security precautions.

And what about all those arrests? The numbers so far show that as of Thursday afternoon, about 300 people have been arrested in St. Paul and about 100 in Minneapolis. All but a handful of the Minneapolis arrestees were cited and released immediately.

St. Paul is a different story. Some people were cited with misdemeanors, processed and released within a few hours; but the vast majority of people were charged with "gross misdemeanors" or felonies. They were held up until their 36 hours expired. (Minnesota law requires individuals in custody to be charged and brought before a judge or released after 36 hours, not including the day of arrest, weekends and holidays.)

Wednesday was a big day in arraignment court because, for most of the arrestees, their 36 hours was up at noon. According to the Star Tribune, 71 people were arrested on felony charges. Twenty-seven of them were dismissed outright. We have been told that all but around 25 of the rest have already been reduced to lesser charges. Our volunteer attorneys were surprised by the high bail amounts they saw on Tuesday, and Wednesday was more of the same.

On Tuesday one of our attorneys told the judge for the record that in his 30 years of practicing criminal law, he has never seen $2,000 bail for charges of disorderly conduct. By Wednesday evening when the calendar turned to the last 50 or so misdemeanor arraignments, bail amounts were down in the $200 to $500 range for out-of-state defendants and no bail for in-state residents. Our attorneys heard stories from many people, including journalists, who reported being swept up by police without regard to their actions. One person reported that he worked for a security company and he was on his way to report to his assignment — at the convention — when police arrested him along with others. Complicating matters for those who have been released is the seizure and holding of their property. We have been getting calls all day from people who are in a jam because their car keys, backpacks, purses, wallets, credit cards, IDs and cell phones were taken by police. They are not able to drive their vehicles home because they don’t have their keys and they can’t get a place to stay without access to their money.

Outside the Law Enforcement Center on Wednesday evening, the atmosphere was a mix of joy and apprehension. Family members and friends came to await the release of their loved ones and friends. Clusters of people gathered on the sidewalks and boulevards to reunite with people being released. A guitarist played mellow music to one small group of people and the assembled group was peaceful. Across the street, a group of police on horseback watched the sidewalk in anticipation. Another group of police in riot gear was assembled nearby the mounted patrol. On the other side, at least one more group of police in riot gear also kept a watchful eye on the peaceful crowd. By the time I left the LEC when court was winding down, all but one group of police in riot gear had left the area.

The ACLU of Minnesota will continue to provide attorneys for the arraignments of people taken into custody in RNC-related arrests and we will be reviewing police actions and arrests for possible civil rights litigation to vindicate the constitutional rights of protestors and journalists.

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not completely ...

The situation seems so one-sided. The police can arrest someone (possibly for no reason) and they must remain in custody for a couple days, depending on the whim of the police. At the end of it, the police can either win the case or at worst lose nothing. The person arrested can either lose the case or at best win nothing.

Isn't there some way to punish the police if they make arrests with no cause?

Joe Rogozinski

I have been watching the events in St,Paul all week in horror. My concerns are for the people swept up in abuses of their civil rights, and for the emergence of a police state in our nation.

Normally it is the taxpayers, the citizens of a community, who bear the cost of liability for misconduct by their government officials. That way, the officials must answer to the public for their actions. By the RNC purchasing liability insurance on behalf of the city of St. Paul to cover claims of police misconduct, they have literally funded the abuse of police power in order to enhance their political agenda. This is a horrifying new tactic to a nation already suffering from a severe erosion of it's Constitution.

I appreciate greatly the assistance from all the attorneys working for justice in St.Paul, both paid and volunteer, ACLU and Lawyers' Guild. But I believe this may not be enough, considering how dire this situation is. We are entering a bold, new world of buy-outs from legal responsibility. If you now worry whether you can afford a house, or a car, or the rent, consider how you would feel worrying if you could afford the protection of the law, or how you could deal with those who can afford to purchase the law itself.

I believe it would help serve the preservation of Constitutional principles for the ACLU to start a fund specifically used first for the defense of persons wrongly detained for using their free-speech liberties, then the prosecution of any abuses of these liberties by public officials at all levels, and ultimately to start a program with the goal of curbing the use of insurance policies to cover liability incurred by breaking the law.

Neither my health insurance nor life insurance will cover me in circumstances of injuries incurred during the commission of any crime, including a suicide attempt. Can we really afford to allow potential criminal behavior to be secure from financial liability simply because they have sufficient financial backing?

If that is the course we allow, a plutocracy will certainly be at the end of the road, and our system of equal justice under the law a distant memory.



freedom fighter

Hey j-man! Thank the Constitution for liberal fools like Thomas Jefferson for fighting for the right for you to 'yell' on the internet without fear of being incarcerated until the magistrate decides you are not a threat to society.
Bravo to the ACLU for being there!

Phoenix Woman

J-man is the typical Republican fool; he has no facts, only the Caps Lock key.


j-man, you spineless, lily livered, weak
kneed, yellow bellied twit. You, like the mentally deficient cops that consent to this insane overthrow of our country, have no concept or understanding of our history or of what this illegal regime has done to our constitution. You are a follower,a dumb lemming who thinks party trumps country. You have been had, fool. You think you still live in the USA, it is gone. You are now a slave to the NAU. We need real Americans not dumb assed punks like you to get our country back.
You best watch your back, boy, you will be next. Best learn some history, you idiot.


GO J-MAN!!! You took the words right out of my mouth. The ACLU doesn't care about individual rights, just liberal's rights! Make sure you go see that movie An American Carol. It completely brings to the forefront how radical this organization is. I'm telling everyone

Edward K. Ream

j-man and Susan bring to mind brown-shirted thugs in Nazi Germany. Why bother with facts or reason when you can intimidate and terrorize? This is a truly scary time for civil liberties in the United States.

And by the way, what gives j-man and Susan the right to label as "worthless" those who are peacefully protesting? Liberals, conservatives, whatever--all must have civil rights, or none of us will have civil rights.


We cant' really blame J-man if all he watches is the mainstream media. He's just hypnotized and therefore wouldn't know the truth if it bit him in the face. He's simply just ingnorant.


I think I've seen enough. My one hope this election year is that the ACLU not only frees all these people wrongfully arrested, but successfully challenges the laws they have supposedly broken.

For me, pure joy would be if all the police who abused and tortured, broke down doors, destroyed equipment and seized personal effects were tried, found guilty of federal civil rights violations, and sent to prison.


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