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New videos delay trial of protester

Tue., May 6, 2008

A district judge delayed the trial Monday afternoon for a protester arrested July 4 after police produced previously unreleased videos of the confrontation in Riverfront Park.

Prosecutors didn’t learn of the videos until Monday morning and the defense didn’t get them until minutes before jury selection was to begin.

Ronnie Rae, attorney for 20-year-old protester Michael C. Lyons, asked the case be dismissed for mismanagement and that sanctions be leveled against city prosecutors for what he called a “blatant violation” of court rules to supply evidence to the defense. He didn’t receive the video until 10 minutes before the trial was scheduled to start.

Assistant City Prosecutor Jim Bledsoe said he didn’t intentionally withhold the evidence. He simply didn’t know about it until a member of the Spokane Police Department gave it to him Monday morning. When he received it, Bledsoe said, he called Rae, had copies made and gave them to the defense attorney when they both got to the courthouse.

“As soon as I knew, he knew,” Bledsoe said.

Some parts of the videos could support the prosecution, other parts could support the defense, he said, arguing the trial should start after both sides have a chance to watch the videos.

The videos reportedly were shot with telephoto lenses by two police officers on a hill in Riverfront Park, above the area where 17 people were arrested on July 4.

Spokane County District Judge Annette Plese ordered the two attorneys to submit briefs by this afternoon and show up for a hearing Wednesday on whether the case should be dismissed and sanctions levied. She called the emergence of the videos “disheartening to the court system,” noting she had a jury pool of 30 people waiting and a week on her court calendar blocked out for the trial.

She rescheduled the trial for May 21 if the charges aren’t dismissed.

Officer Jennifer DeRuwe, a police spokeswoman, said the department was conducting an internal review “to find out where the breakdown in communication occurred.”

The department will try to assemble the sequence of events around the filing of the videos, which apparently were stored separately from other evidence sent to the prosecutor’s office, DeRuwe said. “It appears to be human error.”

Spokane police clashed in Riverfront Park with a group calling for greater police accountability after several high-profile incidents. One demonstrator, Zach St. John, was charged with felony assault but pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. The others were charged with misdemeanor trespass and failure to disperse; all but Lyons accepted deferred prosecutions, which will allow the charges to be dropped if the defendants aren’t charged with similar offenses in the next year.

Lyons requested a trial, Rae said, because “he doesn’t feel he did anything outside the confines of the Constitution.”

None of the other defendants knew of the videos before accepting offers to settle their cases.

Bledsoe said that in the 10 months since the protest happened, he has interviewed police officers present at the protest and arrest, and seen other videos that have been given to the defense. But on Monday morning, police Sgt. Jason Hartman, who is working with the prosecution on the case, brought him two videos Bledsoe said he didn’t know existed.

“No one ever said ‘Gee, you don’t have this,’ ” Bledsoe said.

Hartman apparently realized the videos weren’t on the list of prosecution exhibits and found them in the police property room, Bledsoe said.

Rae said he was ready for trial until being told there were police videos he hasn’t seen that “apparently have my client’s face all over them.”

Outside the courtroom, Rae said he questioned how police could fail to produce videos shot 10 months earlier until the day the trial was scheduled to start. The officers who shot the videos had to have been in place before the arrests started, and aren’t mentioned in any of the reports, he said.

“I don’t buy that nobody knew about these videos until today,” he said.

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