Friday, August 08, 2008

Tacoma Judge Orders Release of My Camera

Criminal trespassing in the 2nd degree is punishable in Washington State with up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. I entered a plea of "Not guilty" before the court today for the trespassing charge against me, which refers to what happened at the Port Militarization Resistance protests earlier this week. Although the City of Tacoma generously offered me 0 days in jail and a $300 fine had I plead "Guilty" to the charge, I decided this offer was not worth letting the issue slide by unnoticed. My pre-trial hearing will be September 9th.

Pierce County's ACLU chair, Colleen Waterhouse, was present at my hearing today and offered ACLU's legal counsel for my case. Washington's ACLU complaint intake manager, Eric Nygren, said it is very rare for the ACLU to be directly involved with criminal representation. Complaints heard by the ACLU are generally aided through legal research and expertise. At this point it is unclear how the ACLU will be involved with my case, though their counsel has been significantly helpful so far.

Tacoma Judge, Dennis Ball, ordered the release of Praxis Imago's Canon XL2 (the camera I use for nearly all the footage I have collected) at today's arraignment, though the camera is still effectively being held hostage in the court's property room. As it stands, the sergeant in command the night of my arrest has recently gone on vacation and failed to process the release form I turned in last Tuesday. An officer at the Tacoma Police Headquarters told me he might not return for another week and half. (I had planned to leave for the DNC on August 15th. I also will have to put the documentary A Guide to Eating Locally in Tacoma, produced by myself and Kendle Bjelland, on hold.)

Judge Ball agreed with my Defense Attorney, Alberto Germano, that the camera could not be considered 'evidence' in a misdemeanor case such as trespassing. The question before the court, said Germano, is whether the defendant was standing on private property at the time of his arrest. "It does not matter if Mr. La Sac was carrying a pen, a notepad, or a camera," he argued. "Only contraband, such as the possession of illegal drugs like marijuana" should be confiscated from the defendant in a trespassing case.

To this the Prosecuting Attorney, Keith Echterling, responded that the reason why the camera was placed into the property room in the first place was that the camera was "too big" to fit in the Pierce County Jail. He read this from an addendum police report. Echterling agreed that the camera ought to be released from the court's custody but added that he "didn't feel comfortable" about doing this immediately. Germano added to my credibility that I am a journalist covering the upcoming political conventions and needed the camera very soon. Judge Ball replied that he would sign the necessary documents needed to release the camera today, upon Germano's request, in order to sidestep all of the legal bureaucracy involved with obtaining property from the court.

The mini-DV tape which captured the PMR protest and interviews from Monday, August 4th, will be held by the court until further notice.

Independent journalist and professor of French literature at Pacific Lutheran University, Mark Jensen, was present at today's hearing. You can read his article about the arraignment on United for Peace and Justice Peirce County.

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