Occupy Wall Street occupies court as protesters head for trial
Dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters rejected a prosecution deal Thursday and opted to face trial on disorderly conduct and other charges stemming from a march in September, setting the stage for a new occupation -- of Manhattan's criminal courts.
More than 60 people who were arrested during the Sept. 24 march, which made headlines when a police officer used pepper spray on some protesters, made their first court appearance.
An attorney representing them, Martin Stolar, estimated that 90% rejected a so-called "adjournment in contemplation of dismissal" offered by prosecutors: Charges against the protesters would be dropped if they stayed out of trouble for six months.
Stolar said most of those arrested wanted to go to trial because they were convinced they did nothing wrong. "I think most ... have a substantially good chance of getting acquitted," Stolar said outside the courthouse, calling them "totally innocent."
The protesters say they were exercising constitutional rights to assembly and free speech when they were set upon by police as they marched from the movement's encampment in Lower Manhattan to Union Square, a couple of miles to the north.
One of those who rejected the prosecution's offer, Jason McGaughey, accused police of surrounding marchers with orange netting and closing in on them, even as protesters followed instructions to remain on sidewalks and not disrupt traffic. "I was caught like a fish in that net," he said after the court appearance. "My rights were violated."
Stolar said the district attorney's office should have "tossed these cases out."
Instead, those who opted for trial were released on bail until their next court appearance on Jan. 9. Fourteen people who were due in court Thursday failed to appear, and a handful of people accepted the prosecution deal.
The nearly 80 people arrested Sept. 24 are just a fraction of the Occupy Wall Street protesters facing legal action. Stolar said an additional 778 people face charges from two other mass arrests, including one on the Brooklyn Bridge on Oct. 1 that led to about 700 detentions. Sixteen others were arrested Thursday during a march to the offices of Goldman Sachs.
Occupy Wall Street has been based in Lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park since its first march on Sept. 17. Most of its protests have been peaceful, but the Sept. 24 march erupted in pandemonium when a police detective spritzed pepper spray at some protesters near Union Square. The officer has since been reassigned to Staten Island.
Stolar said he expected most of those arrested in other Occupy Wall Street protests to also reject deals and take their cases to trial.
-- Tina Susman in New York
Photo: Ann Shirazi appears in Manhattan criminal court in New York on disorderly conduct charges stemming from an Occupy Wall Street march. Credit: Steven Hirsch / Pool