Ten minutes before the jury decided the verdict that could send University student Augustin Ganley to jail for more than two years, the six jury members hunched over a notebook computer in the darkened courtroom and watched three cell phone videos one last time, while the videos – with their soundtracks of sirens, curses and chants – blared through the room.
In the course of the trial, the prosecution introduced three witnesses, all Minneapolis police officers, while the defense countered with nine eyewitnesses, some of whom were Ganley’s friends.
In the end, the amount of the defense’s evidence, with its grainy cell phone videos, outweighed the sworn testimony of a Minneapolis policeman.
Ganley was acquitted Monday of charges of assaulting a police officer, obstruction and fleeing, all of which carried a penalty of up to two years and three months in jail. The charges stemmed from an Aug. 31 Critical Mass bike protest, where 19 people were arrested.
The trial started Monday, April 7. Yesterday, the six-member jury deliberated for less than two hours before agreeing on the verdict.
Technology on trial
Technology played an integral role in the trial by neutralizing a jury’s possible prejudices against people engaged in activism, defense attorney Carla Magnuson said.
“It was a huge help,” she said. “It backed the defense’s version of events, and contradicted the prosecutor’s eyewitness.”
For Ganley and his supporters, the not-guilty verdict marks the end of an eight-month ordeal that has cost Ganley almost $8,000 in legal and court fees.
“It certainly is a stressful situation, just the fact that you’re constantly thinking about it,” Ganley said. “It’s definitely a relief to get back to my life.”
The prosecutor argued that Ganley challenged and then punched police officer Craig Williams, although the videos showed no interactions between Williams and Ganley until Ganley’s arrest.
An eye-opening experience
The trial was an eye-opening introduction to the complexities of the legal system, Ganley said.
“I’m trying to understand how I can get assaulted and be accused of being the assaulter,” he said.
In the weeklong trial, more than 25 different supporters attended proceedings.
Some supporters, like friend Tim Ark, came to Ganley’s trial for political reasons.
“The main reason I’m here is to sit in solidarity with those who have legitimate aspirations to resist this repressive society,” Ark said.
Others, like Ganley’s father, Dan, came to support him emotionally in a stressful situation, and found that they themselves were affected.
“It brought me to tears when I heard one of the defense witnesses describe Gus being beat by police,” his father said.
The presence of friends and family made the trial easier, Ganley said.
“Without them, I don’t know if I would have come out the same person,” he said.
The defense’s witnesses – some of whom were teachers, professors and students – provided a solid foundation for the defense’s argument, juror Lucas Sheller said.
“Many of those people seemed to be very well respected,” he said.
Implications for activism
Hanging over the trial were accusations by Critical Mass participants that authorities intended to use Ganley’s prosecution as a test case for the upcoming protests against the Republican National Convention.
During similar presidential conventions, police have frequently clashed with nonviolent protestors, associate professor of social work Lisa Albrecht said.
“Nonviolent civil disobedience has a long history,” she said. “Police intimidation is much more common today when there’s nonviolent civil disobedience.”
The verdict of not guilty is proof that activists can sometimes win against police intimidation, said Max Specktor, a University freshman and member of the RNC Welcoming Committee – an anti-RNC activist group,
“(The case) has weighed us down, but this is a good motivator to continue our activities,” Specktor said. “People shouldn’t be scared to inaction by trumped up charges.”
The experience hasn’t soured Ganley on activism.
“It definitely strengthened many beliefs I had,” he said. “(It) let me know that I wouldn’t be intimidated or silenced.”
Spokesmen for the Minneapolis Police Department and Minneapolis Attorney’s office didn’t return calls as of Daily press time Monday.