One year later, RNC protester cases still pendingby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — One year ago, the Republican National Convention took over downtown St. Paul. Much of the memory of the week's violence and mass arrests has faded, but for some people the convention is far from over.
A handful of cases is still working its way through the courts, including the high profile cases of the RNC8 -- eight people charged individually with conspiracy to commit riot and property damage.
For four days last September, downtown St. Paul rang out with the sounds of protest chants. As thousands of people packed the inside of the Xcel Energy Center for the 2008 Republican National Convention, thousands more took to the streets outside to protest.
Much of the civil disobedience staged during the RNC was just that - civil. But there was violence during the convention - starting on the first day, when protesters attempted to block delegates from getting to the Xcel Center. Police and protesters clashed as the day wore on, ending in hundreds of arrests and setting the tone for the rest of the week.
The tension reached a boiling point on the last day of the RNC. That day, a large group of protesters tried to march to the Xcel after their permit had expired. Police in riot gear herded them onto a bridge over Interstate 94, where they used tear gas and pepper spray on the crowd. More than 300 people were arrested and herded onto paddywagons.
In all, more than 800 people were arrested that week. Most were charged with misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors, and the vast majority of the cases were declined or dismissed.
But a handful remain.
Of the 75 adult felony cases brought to the Ramsey County Attorney's office, about two dozen people were charged. One year later, 11 are still pending, including the cases of the so-called RNC8. The state initially alleged the defendants committed the acts in 'furtherance of terrorism,' charges which were later dismissed.
Defense attorney Bruce Nestor, who represents one of the RNC8, says most Minnesotans probably aren't aware the cases are still hung up in the courts.
"Really, the people bearing the brunt of the RNC right now are the individual defendants," Nestor said. "A few individuals who are being prosecuted and held responsible for everything that law enforcement didn't like about the first few days of the RNC and those legal cases have kind of receded from the spotlight."
Nestor's client, Monica Bicking, was arrested the night before the convention started at her home in Minneapolis. Her house was one of a number of locations raided by law enforcement in the days before the RNC. Police say the raids were aimed at stifling the RNC Welcoming Committee, a self-described Anarchist group organizing protesters for the convention.
Bicking, 24, said she knew the group had been under surveillance for more than a year.
"The Welcoming Committee was an open group," she remembered. "I wasn't surprised to find out there were people infiltrating it so I wasn't suprised when I was arrested, but I was suprised when I heard the charges and I was surprised when they stuck."
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, who led the undercover investigation into the RNC Welcoming Committee, declined to speak to MPR News for this story because he is testifying in a number of RNC related cases. In an earlier interview, Fletcher told MPR his investigation turned up intelligence that the group was planning violence and needed to be stopped.
"It's against the law to block buses and people from getting to their convention," Fletcher said. "It's criminal on its face."
Before the RNC, the Welcoming Committee had declared plans to 'crash the convention' and provide logistical support for activists coming from around the country to protest.
Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, who is leading the prosecution against the RNC8, said what they did was not simply civil disobedience.
"That is not what these eight individuals are charged with," Gaertner said. "They are charged with planning to do things like break windows, trash squad cars, throw feces and urine at police officers - those kinds of things do not fall under the category of civil disobedience, no matter how valid the political viewpoints are,"
Attorneys for the RNC8 say what the defendants did amounts to political rhetoric, not threats. They say the preemptive arrests and resulting court cases are about stifling political dissent.
A report released last winter by the RNC Review Commission found law enforcement acted appropriately during the convention, despite some concerns about police coordination, communication and preparation, among other things.
The RNC8 are pushing for a judge to try their cases together. State officials say they plan to try the cases separately. However her case is heard, defendant Monica Bicking said she's hopeful that a jury will vindicate her.
"When I see the evidence and I know my life those two years, when they are saying we built up this conspiracy," she said. "I know I'm innocent and I have a really hard time thinking, no matter who the jury is, that they could possibly convict me."
The RNC8 cases are expected to go to trial sometime this Fall.
- All Things Considered, 08/31/2009, 5:20 p.m.