Convention Demonstrators Are Held on Very High Bail
Lawyers Call Action Preventive Detention
By FRANCIS X. CLINES
PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 4 -- With bail being set as high as $1 million for protesters accused of blocking streets during the Republican National Convention, defense and civil liberties lawyers today questioned whether the city court action was a punitive measure intended to discourage the next round of civil disobedience, planned for the Democrats' convention in Los Angeles.
The bail of $1 million was set for John Sellers, identified as a 33-year-old leader of the Ruckus Society of California, which says it trains demonstrators in nonviolent civil disobedience. Larry Frankel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said the amount seemed extraordinary since Mr. Sellers had been charged only with eight misdemeanors.
Bail for three other defendants whom the police considered ringleaders of the street protests was set at $400,000 to $500,000, with only one of them, 20-year-old Darby Landy, accused of a felony. The charge came after a street fracas with biker police officers led by Commissioner John P. Timoney.
Mr. Frankel questioned whether the city's intention was to keep protest leaders "in detention until their date of trial" sometime after the Democratic National Convention's opening on Aug. 14, rather than serving bail's basic purpose of guaranteeing a defendant's appearance for trial. Other defense lawyers noted that defendants charged with misdemeanors typically were released on their own recognizance and that bail as high as $1 million was unprecedented for misdemeanors.
In arguing for the high bail, Assistant District Attorney Cindy Martelli contended on Thursday that Mr. Sellers was one of the key leaders of the illegal street demonstrations Tuesday in which more than 200 protesters were arrested.
"He facilitates the more radical elements to accomplish their objective of violence and mayhem," Ms. Martelli said.
There were few reports of major property damage or serious personal injury in the demonstrations.
In the bail argument, prosecutors referred repeatedly to the coming Democratic convention and to street protests earlier in Washington and Seattle. Defense lawyers said the simple misdemeanor charges at issue were being inflated into ominous-sounding national conspiracies to draw the high bail.
"This is Philadelphia, Ala.," said Lawrence S. Krasner, Mr. Sellers's defense lawyer, who contended that the city was using bail as a tool of preventive detention and punishment.
"Bail of $1 million for a misdemeanor is absolutely ludicrous," Mr. Krasner said, adding that he would appeal it on Monday.
After 371 arrests made during the convention week, most on misdemeanor charges, only about a third of the defendants were free as of this morning, by unofficial count. The police and demonstrators accused each other of deliberately slowing the arraignment process. Civil liberties lawyers said a number of protesters were refusing to cooperate and withholding their identities.
"I'm getting parents calling us up asking if we know what happened to their kids," Mr. Frankel said, emphasizing that he was urging cooperation and proper identification.
Mr. Sellers was arrested as he engaged in a cell phone conversation on the street. Amy Kwasnicki, organizer for the protest group Philadelphia Direct Action, accused the police of preemptively arresting people they considered protest leaders even though she said Mr. Sellers had only trained others in methods of nonviolent civil disobedience.
Seventy of the defendants were arrested on Tuesday in a puppet-making factory that the police raided with a search warrant, contending they would uncover hard evidence of criminal plans to disrupt the city during the convention. Demonstrators said the factory contained only street-theater puppets and agitprop paraphernalia intended for nonviolent civil disobedience.
As defense lawyers awaited details of the evidence that the police considered likely to be found, a judge ordered the warrant's contents sealed at the request of city prosecutors. "Highly suspicious," said Stefan Presser, legal director for the A.C.L.U.
The police denied accusations that the factory raid was a preemptive strike.
"We think we can prove they've engaged in criminal activity," Commissioner Timoney said on Thursday.
He raised the question of whether there should be a federal investigation into the activities of protest groups moving lately from one city to another to stage street demonstrations during major, media-heavy conferences. "Somebody's got to look into these groups," Mr. Timoney said.
The police were widely praised by Philadelphians for restraint in dealing with the demonstrations. But leaders of the protest groups said defendants were being abused in jail. The police denied this, and Mr. Presser of the A.C.L.U. said legal monitors inside the detention area had received no complaints of the alleged brutality.