MIAMI - January 29 - Judge Beth Bloom granted a defense motion to acquit yesterday in the first jury trial stemming from Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) protests of November 2003. Charges were dismissed in Dade County Court yesterday in the first jury trial to occur since last November's Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) protests. The defendant, Gan Golan, 30, a graduate student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was arrested on Friday, November 21, 2003 and originally charged with "failure to obey a police order" and "resisting arrest without violence."
After hearing testimony and evidence from both sides, Judge Beth Bloom granted the second motion for a judgment of acquittal and dismissed the charges. Bloom ruled that no reasonable juror could convict Golan based on the evidence presented. Public Defenders Philip Kim and Barbara Ho represented Golan and put forward the motion after the defense finished their case, but before the jury deliberated.
After the ruling, Golan commented, "It is not the FTAA protestors that should be on trial--it's the police. 'Law enforcement' not only not only assaulted a group of non-violent citizens exercising their first amendment rights, but also trampled on the Constitution. As Miami Court Judge Margolius commented in another case," continued Golan. "The police should be facing charges."
Golan was arrested along with over sixty other people attending a peaceful vigil in front of the Miami-Dade County Jail. Over 200 people had gathered at the jail that Friday to show solidarity for those arrested and attacked by police the previous day. The crowd was not only restricted from peacefully assembling, but was brutally assaulted with pepper spray and forcefully pushed to the ground by numerous riot police.
Golan's arresting officer, Juan Leon, and Lt. Jeffrey Schmidinger, who allegedly issued the order to disperse prior to the arrest, both testified in court. Testimony by the Metro Dade police officers' directly contradicted each other as well as other evidence presented by the defense. Contrary to prior reports by police, Schmidinger testified, under oath, that the police moved in on the hundreds of assembled protestors before the announced time given for them to disperse from the area. Schmidinger is listed in numerous FTAA-related arrests reports as the officer who gave the dispersal order.
"The fact that the prosecution's case did not hold up in court is certainly telling," said Golan. "But being acquitted does not solve the problem of how and why the police violated all of our rights. The defense has won its case, but unless we can stop this behavior from happening on the streets of Miami and other cities around the nation, the police will remain able to perpetrate their misconduct against others."
Golan is on full scholarship to MIT and a research assistant at the Program for Human Rights and Justice at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. His course of study involves Global Trade and International Development, issues at the heart of the debate around the controversial FTAA meetings.
For further information about the aftermath of the FTAA protests and the legal battle to defend the rights of those unlawfully arrested, please refer to the following web sites: