Pre-trial hearings of the Oakland 25

Nov 7, 2003 & Jan 9, 2004

The DA of Alameda Country attempted to prosecute 25 people who were arrested at the Port of Oakland on April 7, 2003. The defendants were charged with bogus misdemeanors, such as “disrupting a business” and “creating a public nuisance.” Below are two courthouse reports from a series of pre-trial hearings. These reports were originally posted on Indymedia.

Supporters hold rally, then attend pretrial hearing

Nearly two hundred people showed up to demonstrate support for the Oakland 25 at a pretrial hearing on Friday, November 7th. The defendants include 24 protesters and ILWU's Jack Heyman, all of whom were arrested at the Port of Oakland protest on April 7, 2003 when police fired "less-lethal" ammunition at both demonstrators and dockworkers.

Speakers from several groups addressed the Friday rally, which was held in front of the courthouse in Oakland. One of the speakers was Willow Rosenthal, who spent time in the hospital and underwent surgery for injuries to her leg which were caused by police use of wooden bullets.

The police had attempted to justify the April 7, 2003 attack by falsely claiming that protesters had showered them with a hail of rocks, bottles and railroad spikes, thus forcing them to fire in self defense. However, numerous videos, including one taken by the police themselves, showed that there'd been no rock throwing. The videos along with witnesses accounts established that the demonstrators were peaceful, and Oakland police officials were caught in a lie.

Almost from the beginning, District Attorney Tom Orloff expressed an intention to prosecute demonstrators, but for over two months his office seemed to be in a quandary over how to handle it. Finally in June the prosecutors filed charges against 24 demonstrators and ILWU Business Agent Jack Heyman. The charges against the protesters were "failure to disperse" and "interfering with a business." Heyman was charged with "failure to comply with a police officer's order" and "resisting an officer."

The event for today (Fri Nov 7) was a pretrial hearing. After the rally we went inside to attend the hearing, but found the courtroom had seats for only about 70 of us.

When the session began, defense attorney Bobbie Stein pointed out to the judge that the defendants had done nothing wrong and had only attended a peaceful demonstration. "It's absurd that Alameda County is continuing to prosecute this case," she said.

The DA's office added a new charge, that of "creating a public nuisance." Attempting to justify the charges, Deputy DA Stuart Hing said, "It's like asking why we are charging drunk drivers. They committed a crime."

Meanwhile, no charges have been filed against the police who were presumably sober when they fired at peaceful demonstrators and dockworkers, injuring several dozen.

Defense attorneys also complained that the DA has refused to turn over 400 pages of evidence. These pages were requested in a discovery motion and the DA is required by law to turn them over. A previous judge had also made a ruling to that effect. However. "The district attorney has defied that ruling," an attorney for the defense told the judge.

There was some dickering back and forth over whether or not the judge should reaffirm the order to the DA to produce the missing documentation. The judge expressed hope that the DA would come through.

The next hearing will be on January 9, 2004 with a different judge presiding.

The 400 pages in question apparently consist of police records, and the DA's refusal to turn them over in the face of a court order seems unusual. However, this whole thing has gone through one cover up after another. Back in April our Oakland City Council voted to have an independent investigation into the police attack which injured so many people. The intention was to get to the bottom of the matter and find exactly who was behind the shooting; the suspects included several Oakland city officials including Mayor Jerry Brown. Other suspects were shipping company officials, some of whom had been seen at the police command post during the attack. The Department of Homeland Security was also suspected.

However, the task of setting up the investigative panel was entrusted to the Oakland city manager and city attorney who did not even grant power of subpoena to the panel. That meant that the panel couldn't require reluctant witnesses to come forth and testify. After only two meetings, the panel disbanded. That was in August 2003.

But people do ask questions, and it was as a result of the shootings of April 7 that CATIC's role was uncovered. The Oakland Tribune published an article (5/18/2003) in which CATIC (California Anti-Terrorism Information Center) spokesman Mike Van Winkle gave his famous interview in which he equated protesters to terrorists.

In two paragraphs of immortal prose which have been more quoted than anything since Shakespeare, Van Winkle said it all, and immediately lost his job as spokesman for CATIC. Poor Van Winkle is probably still wondering what he did wrong. But any of us who were in the courtroom on November 7th could tell the man that his error was to make a straightforward statement and let people know what was going on.


How it went that day

Once again, supporters of the “Oakland 25” filled all seventy two seats of the courtroom during the pretrial hearing of Friday, January 9th. Before the session began, protesters gathered on the street outside the courthouse and unfurled a banner reading: “Hands off the Oakland 25.”

This event was the latest in a series of such hearings which have been going on since the defendants were arrested at the Oakland docks on April 7, 2003. That was the day police brought “less-lethal” munitions to the port and attacked peaceful protesters.

Defense attorney Bobbie Stein made a motion for dismissal of charges. “This is a vindictive prosecution,” she told the judge. However the judge did not rule on the motion at this time; he instead continued the case to another hearing which will be held in February.

A date was also set for a trial to begin in March, unless charges are dismissed at the February hearing.

Another motion made by defense attorneys was a complaint that the DA was still failing to comply with a court order requiring him to provide police reports and other discovery materials to indigent defendants. That ruling was made several months ago, and so the DA’s office has had more than enough time to comply. The same complaint also made by the defense at the November hearing as well as on previous occasions before that.

The DA’s defiance of the order should be considered contempt of court, one of the attorneys for the defense pointed out. The judge told the defense to file the appropriate papers and it would be heard at the next hearing.

The next hearing was on Friday, February 6, 2004 in the courtroom of Judge C. Don Clay.

Charges against the "Oakland 25" were finally dropped in April 2004