UPDATE, MARCH 24, 11:40 A.M.:Two live-streamers narrowly escaped convictions yesterday for failing to disperse from a Kelly Thomas post-verdict protest last year. All but one juror favored finding the defendant AJ Redkey guilty of the misdemeanor offense. The jury similarly deadlocked 8-4 for PM Beers. The Orange County District Attorney's (OCDA) office decided against dismissing the case and, in a gigantic waste of everybody's time, will press for a retrial next month.
"The case is about the right to protest and whether or not the police can use the negative actions of a very few people in the crowd as an excuse to shut down the entire protest," defense attorney John Raphling tells the Weekly. "Fullerton Police should have simply arrested the small handful of bad actors and respected the rights of the rest to speak out for justice."
Round 2 is scheduled to start on April 17 at Orange County Superior Court in Fullerton.
ORIGINAL POST, MARCH 18, 7:33 A.M.: Orange County being Orange County, the case of two live-streamers accused of not leaving an unlawful protest actually made it to jury trial. Opening statements began yesterday afternoon for defendants AJ Redkey and PM Beers. The pair filmed Fullerton police on January 18, 2014 when protesters took to the streets following not guilty verdicts for ex-cops Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicineli in the beating death of Kelly Thomas.
The jury will decide whether Redkey and Beers acted as protesters or press when they stayed near police skirmish lines after the po-po issued an order to disperse.Donning a festive green necktie for St. Patrick's Day, Deputy District Attorney Matt Mattis laid out his case. In brief comments, the prosecutor told the jury that the evidence in the trial will show the two remained at the protest despite police telling them and everyone else to scram. He made zero mention of their work as citizen journalists that day.
The defense portrayed their clients as press with all the first amendment protections due to them. "Ms. Beers is a live-streaming journalist," said defense attorney Derek Bercher. Her footage is central to both the case for and against her. "The video tells the story because she's a story teller." He went on to describe Beers as "ground level" and "embedded" narrating her videos with a definite point of view.
AJ Redkey's attorney cast him in similar ways. The happy-go-lucky hippie started off that morning as a protester but took over live-streaming duties from a friend before police declared unlawful assemblies. "As a journalist, he's not Fox News or MSNBC, he's more Comedy Central," said attorney John Raphling in a hat tip to the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
Fullerton police didn't arrest the two at the scene of the skirmish lines. Beers got cuffed hours later at Kelly's Corner where Thomas was beat to death. AJ Redkey was protesting in Pasadena when undercover detectives snagged him more than three months after.
The question of whether live-streaming during an unlawful assembly is protected journalism isn't the only thing on trial. The demonstration is also on the stand.
Mattis called two Fullerton police officers to testify about their undercover work the day of the protest. He focused on vandalism of FPD headquarters and the Slidebar. Mattis also played video of a scuffle between a woman protester and a CBS News camerawoman to help paint the picture that Fullerton became the scene of a riot.
The defense used Beers' own archived footage to cast doubt on whether the protest was so unruly that an unlawful assembly needed to be called.
Fullerton Police Sgt. Pedram Gharah testified that he observed what he believed at the time to be a fight waiting to happen between a shirtless driver and activists. The video captured the man stepping out of his car merely to show a off flesh wound on his back.
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Bercher hammered home that for the times that a few protesters got out of line, the rest came to straighten things out with no help from police.
Whether or not Redkey and Beers will ultimately be exonerated or convicted by their own footage remains to be seen. If found guilty, both face up to six months in jail.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2