BLM protesters found not guilty of obstructing Howard traffic
By Kevin Boneske
HOWARD – Four Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters who disputed the obstruction-of-traffic citations they received for a protest march on village streets July 28 have been found not guilty in municipal court.
“I believe the judge reached the correct result, even if he did not consider reasons I urged – such as this was clear retaliation against the organizers, rather than participants in the protest and intended to chill and prevent any future protests,” Hassel said. “Certain witnesses and evidence were not provided at trial due to COVID concerns. However, I do applaud the judge in recognizing that the protesters had an obvious purpose for their activity and thus could not (be) guilty of loitering.”
Attorney Clarence Duchac represented the Village of Howard.
Duchac did not return messages. Howard Public Safety Director Ed Janke had no comment on the not-guilty verdict.
At the conclusion of the Dec. 15 trial, the parties were given the opportunity to supplement the testimony with briefs filed by Jan. 8, but no briefs were submitted.
Evidence presented at the trial listed Lundin and Taylor as the contact persons in an email sent out July 22 to organize the protest march, which was titled “Bust Up the Silence.”
BLM protests have been held in the Green Bay area in response to George Floyd’s death May 25 when he was in police custody in Minneapolis.
The four defendants were accused of violating a village ordinance that states:
“No person shall loaf or loiter in groups or crowds upon the public streets, alleys, sidewalks, street crossings or bridges or in any other public place within the village in such manner as to prevent, interfere with or obstruct the ordinary free use of such public sidewalks, streets, street crossings and bridges or other public places by persons passing along and over the same.”
The penalty of this violation is listed as between $1 to $1,000, plus costs, and the accepted bond is $187.
The four-page not-guilty decision and order issued by Howard Municipal Judge Brian Stevens concluded evidence did not show the four defendants violated the ordinance related to obstructing traffic.
“No one watching a crowd of people walking would consider them to be loitering in the usual sense of the word,” he said. “This code section, when read as a whole, the court believes is intended to prevent groups of people from lingering in streets and sidewalks and creating an impediment to other foot and/or vehicle traffic.”
Stevens said he didn’t agree with the village’s argument “a slow move or a march of people is the same kind of loitering or loafing that this code section is intended to address.”
“Expanding the definition of loitering to a marching group of people is beyond what the court is willing to do at this time, given the ambiguous nature of the definition and then lack of clearly stated intent on the part of the village board,” he said.
Because there was no approved event permit issued by the village, or a prior designation of a route, Stevens said police did not precede the march, but rather followed and observed.
Testimony during the trial indicated streets leading into the road upon which the march progressed were occasionally blocked to slow or prevent vehicles from entering into the crowd, the decision states.
Stevens said there was also discussion and argument during the trial regarding the event being compared to a parade, in which police would normally block access to traffic to permit movement of parade participants.
The decision noted the march began on Glendale Avenue, across the street from the village hall, and traveled west to Hillcrest Heights, where it proceeded north to Belle Plane Road, over to Belmont Road, north to Lineville Road, East to Cardinal Lane, where it traveled south and concluded back at Glendale Avenue.
With Vervoort driving a Toyota vehicle, Calaway driving a Hyundai vehicle which entered the march behind walkers after the march had begun, and Lundin and Taylor on foot, Stevens said “other appropriate citations could have been issued to all the defendants.”
Stevens said there are other applicable rules of the road that could have been applied, and might be applied in the future.
“Defendant Vervoort could have been cited for driving left of center of the road,” he said. “Defendants Lundin and Taylor could have been cited for violations of pedestrian rules of the road.”