ST. LOUIS, MO - January 14 - On January 9, 2004, the US Attorney dismissed federal trespassing charges against 15 people, including Jeremy Stattman, 27, and Rachel Craft, 24, of St. Louis City. The charges were dropped just two weeks before their trial in Columbus, Georgia, after the prosecutor decided there was insufficient proof that a crime was ever committed.
On November 22, 2003, Stattman and Craft were en route to a nonviolent, 10,000-person rally at the gate of Fort Benning, GA, to protest the U.S. Army School of the Americas, renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHISC). When they stopped at a Fort Benning checkpoint on Interstate 185, a Military Police Officer gave them directions. While leaving the checkpoint, they discovered that neither understood the directions given. After returning to the checkpoint to seek clarification, both were detained and arrested before being transported to Muscogee County Jail.
Stattman and Craft were held under US Marshall's custody until being released November 24. Stattman was released on $1000 bond and Craft on her own recognizance. Bill Quigley, director of Loyola University's law clinic, represented all arrested protestors during their arraignment. "It is not just or fair to arrest people exercising their First Amendment rights for asking for directions", said Quigley.
Craft, a senior at the University of Missouri - St. Louis (UMSL), commented, "When the military, which is supposed to defend Americans rights, instead takes them away, we have a serious problem." Stattman, a case manager for individuals with disabilities, and UMSL student, added, "If this is how the American military treats American citizens, I can only imagine how they treat the citizens of other countries."
None of the arresting officers could be reached for comment.
The SOA/WHISC is a combat training school for soldiers in Latin America. Its graduates are consistently involved in human rights atrocities and coups, including the 1981 El Mozote Massacre of over 900 civilians and the murder of 6 Jesuit priests in 1989. The SOA Watch, a citizens' group that is working to abolish the School of the Americas, began annual demonstrations in 1993.