Critical Mass biker on trial

Potential implications for free speech are involved in a University student’s trial, which starts today, for allegedly assaulting a police officer during a protest last summer.

The incident, involving University student Augustin Ganley and Minneapolis police officer Craig Williams, occurred during a Critical Mass protest on August 31, 2007, in downtown Minneapolis, near the intersection of Grant Street and LaSalle Avenue, according to the complaint.

Critical Mass is a bike ride of 200 to 400 participants, held on the last Friday of every month to advocate reduced reliance on cars.

Ganley, who was arrested with 18 other riders during the protest – 15 of whom had their charges dropped – is charged with assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and fleeing an officer, according to the complaint.

If convicted, Ganley could face up to two years and three months in jail and a $7,000 fine.

The August incident occurred between officers and protestors, when police attempted to detain a participant.

The confrontation attracted up to 50 police officers who used Tasers on the crowd, according to the prosecution documents.

Williams responded to “an officer needs help call” when he confronted Ganley, who Williams said was challenging another officer.

Williams allegedly grabbed Ganley, who swore and resisted arrest, according to the complaint.

Defense attorney Jordan Kushner disputed police claims.

“We have three video tapes that show him not being aggressive and not doing what he’s accused of doing,” Kushner said.

Ganley allegedly tried to flee when Williams knocked him to the ground and handcuffed him, according to the criminal complaint.

The complaint states that Ganley said, “I don’t have to listen; I’m not going to get arrested.”

Williams said he injured his right knee as a result of the incident, according to the complaint.

The August Critical Mass included participants from the Pre-RNC Welcoming Committee, a group of activists organizing against this year’s Republican National Convention, according to defense documents.

Protesters alleged that overwhelming police presence was planned because of the Pre-RNC activists’ involvement.

Minneapolis police Lt. Marie Przynski, acting as the department’s spokeswoman, wasn’t present, but said police presence wasn’t related to anti-RNC planning.

But Andy Brown-Rivers, a member of the Critical Mass legal defense team – a group formed to defend the August arrestees – said the ride had a “different feeling” to it.

“There were squad cars following the whole way,” he said. “There was also a helicopter that followed the mass the entire time.”

Critical Mass is normally followed by two squad cars, but during the August protest there were undercover cars, a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter and up to 30 squad cars, according to the defense documents.

“Officially (the police) claim that they were taken by surprise, but they had a lot of police out there,” Kushner said. “It looked like they planned for something.”

Brown-Rivers said as a result of the August Critical Mass incident, 300 more people than usual turned out for the September ride.

Ganley’s prosecution serves as an example for people who may consider being involved in other anti-RNC protests, Brown-Rivers said.

“We’re going to have to live here after September,” Brown-Rivers said. “Police are going to learn all sorts of bad habits and all sorts of new ways to stop political speech.”