Pennsylvania DA Dismisses Charges Against Anti-Bush Protesters
Less than two minutes after forming the human pyramid, police officers forcibly dismantled the group and took them away in handcuffs. View the videoFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
LANCASTER, PA — The district attorney today withdrew all charges of disorderly conduct against six men who were arrested during a July 9th demonstration in anticipation of President Bush’s motorcade procession. The men stripped down to thongs and attempted to re-create the infamous human pyramid image that emerged from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq.
In withdrawing the charges, District Attorney Donald Totaro said that the protesters’ actions are protected under the First Amendment right to free speech and that state prosecutors “must follow and uphold the laws of Pennsylvania and of this nation.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, who was representing Tristan Egolf, one of the protesters, welcomed today’s decision.
“We are happy that the District Attorney recognized that these men were wrongfully arrested,” said ACLU of Pennsylvania Staff Attorney Paula Knudsen. “We hope that local law enforcement will respect the constitutional rights of all protesters in the future and not be so quick to arrest those who may display an unpopular political opinion.”
The men, dubbed the “Smoketown Six” by local media outlets in reference to the small town where the arrest took place, planned to reconstruct the Abu Ghraib image to express their disapproval of U.S. military actions in Iraq while using a visual that would be difficult for the president to ignore. However, within two minutes of forming the human pyramid, local police officers forced the men to the ground and removed them in handcuffs. Each of the six men arrested were charged with “disorderly conduct” and a trial date was set for October 18.
“These young men conducted themselves in a lawful manner while peacefully expressing their opposition to the current administration’s policies,” said Lancaster attorney Mike Winters of Gray, Patterson, Cody and Taylor, who is representing protester Russell Willard. “People in Lancaster County and across this country should never have to be concerned that expressing their political views – whatever those views may be – will result in their being handcuffed, taken away by the police and charged with a crime which could result in a jail sentence of up to 90 days.”
In addition to Egolf, 32, and Russell Willard, 18, the other defendants are Adam Willard, 21, Jonathan Kohler, 21, Ben Keely, 22, and David Obryant, 21. Other counsel on the consolidated case include Lancaster attorneys Dwight Yoder of Gibble Kraybill & Hess, Robert Wee, Alan Goldberg and Frank Willa.
“One can only conclude that these citizens were arrested and forcefully removed from the area in order to silence and censor their protest against the president,” said Yoder. “That not only is unconstitutional but it is un-American. Political expression and dissent is a hallmark of this country and when our government arrests people to silence them, we all should be concerned.”
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.
The Latest in Free Speech
The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.
Learn More About Free Speech
Protecting free speech means protecting a free press, the democratic process, diversity of thought, and so much more. The ACLU has worked since 1920 to ensure that freedom of speech is protected for everyone.