Dozens of people arrested during Occupy Wall Street protests were in New York Criminal Court yesterday awaiting trial. Most of them had been arrested during the September 24 march, when police kettled and pepper-sprayed protesters.
But as case after case came up, the prosecution told Judge Matthew Sciarrino that it was unprepared to go to trial, and requested that the cases be continued. Most defendants will now have to wait until September or October for their trial.
There were a few exceptions: two cases were dismissed, as the Assistant District Attorney told Judge Matthew Sciarrino that he didn’t have the evidence to prove that Jake Cardillo and Kimberly Warner-Cohen were guilty of disorderly conduct.
Six more protestors accepted prosecutors’ offers of ACDs — Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal. Barring further arrests, their cases will be dismissed in six months.
But in the majority of cases, defendants arrived in court with their lawyers only to learn that the prosecution wasn’t ready to try the case. In most instances, the reason was that the prosecution’s police witnesses hadn’t come in.
Protesters speculated that the rash of police no-shows indicated that arresting officers were afraid of getting caught perjuring themselves on the stand. In two of the few Occupy cases that have gone to trial, the testimony of police witnesses has been contradicted by photographic and video evidence.
There are less sinister explanations, though. Defense lawyers said police witnesses’ failure to show up in court is a widespread phenomenon, and hardly limited to Occupy Wall Street cases. Many of the arresting officers were pulled in from outer boroughs to reinforce the NYPD’s protest coverage, meaning corralling police witnesses into a Manhattan court is even harder.
But the absence of police witnesses and the unpreparedness of the prosecution means many defendants will have waited more than a year by the time they get to fight their charges. “This situation is an example of why we’re out here protesting,” said Jason McGaughey, whose case was continued. “The system is broken.”