May Day demonstrator acquitted by Seattle jury

May Day demonstrator acquitted by Seattle jury
A Seattle Police officer swings his baton at protesters during a May Day march that began as an anti-capitalism protest and turned into demonstrators clashing with police, Wednesday, May 1, 2013, in downtown Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
SEATTLE -- A May Day demonstrator accused of obstructing police during a 2013 protest has been acquitted by a Seattle jury.

Accused of clashing with police during a May Day demonstration, Justin Gonzalez was acquitted Thursday on the single misdemeanor charge he faced.

Gonzalez was arrested during a rowdy "anti-capitalist" demonstration hours after the annual May 1 march through downtown Seattle, which was largely peaceful in 2013. In contrast with the larger worker and immigrant rights march, the evening protests have in recent years seen violent clashes between police and demonstrators.

Accused of obstructing Seattle police officers, Gonzalez was peacefully protesting when officers in riot gear shoved him down and hit him with billy clubs, defense attorney Kenan Isitt said.

"Mr. Gonzalez was peacefully exercising his constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of assembly at this May Day protest," Isitt said by email Friday. "There is no doubt that a few of the protestors were out of control, but most protestors were like Mr. Gonzalez and just wanted to have their voices heard without the distraction of chaos.

"For them, the actions of both the anarchists and the police squelched their message."

City prosecutors claimed Gonzalez refused to back up after he was caught behind a police line near the intersection of Pine Street and Eighth Avenue. In a sworn statement, a Seattle police officer said Gonzalez pushed against bicycle officers prior to his arrest.

Gonzalez and his fellow protesters had been herded east on Olive Way by police using pepper spray and noise grenades in an attempt to break up the crowd, Isiitt said. Gonzalez locked arms with two other demonstrators about 20 feed from a police line and was standing still when two officers approached him.

A photo taken immediately before the incident shows Gonzalez and two other men a distance from the police line. Two armored officers are seen approaching them with clubs in hand.

Video of the altercation showed two officers poking Gonzalez in the stomach with their batons as he attempted to walk backward, said Isitt, an attorney with the Seattle firm Carney Gillespie Isitt. The baton strikes left Gonzalez sore and bruised.

Police then knocked Gonzalez into the back of another officer. That collision apparently prompted Gonzalez's arrest.

Gonzalez was briefly jailed following the incident and subsequently charged with obstructing a police officer. A Seattle Municipal Court jury acquitted him Thursday.

"We are pleased that the jury supported Mr. Gonzalez's right to protest," Isitt said.