Judge acquits three GOP convention protesters
By DAVID B. CARUSO
The Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA - A judge cleared three activists Tuesday of charges that they brawled with a police unit led by the city's former police commissioner during street demonstrations at the 2000 Republican National Convention.
Judge William J. Mazzola acquitted the trio of charges including riot and assault after viewing a videotape of the fracas shot by a protester.
Defense attorneys said the tape showed that one of the defendants, Camilo Viveiros, acted peacefully as he was grabbed and hit by police despite testimony by the officers that he had resisted arrest.
Prosecutors said the tape was inconclusive, and had asked the judge to believe the officers who said Viveiros, Darby Landy, and Eric Steinberg had instigated a fight.
"I feel vindicated," said Viveiros, 34, a housing-rights activist from Somerset, Mass.
"I feel like the victory today was dependent on the solidarity of people who were out on the streets videotaping police interactions," he said. "Without that video, it would have been more difficult. It would have been my testimony against the testimony of three or four different officers."
About 400 people were arrested during the protests, most of which occurred several miles from the arena in which Republicans met to nominate George W. Bush.
Police officers battled scores of anarchists who vandalized property and tried to set fires during the demonstrations, but organizers said many of those arrested were innocent bystanders. Only a few people were convicted, although many accepted a plea bargain that placed them on probation for a short period in exchange for a clean record.
The trial for Viveiros, Landy and Steinberg was delayed for several years.
The verdict came despite the testimony of former police commissioner John Timoney, now the police chief in Miami. Timoney said he and other police officers who were on bicycles wrestled with protesters as they tried to stop a group from overturning a car.
Prosecutors alleged that during the melee, Viveiros raised a bicycle over his head and tossed it at a group of officers. One officer, Raymond Felder, was struck and suffered a concussion. Timoney said in his testimony that he did not see the person who threw the bike.
"We thought that our evidence was very strong, and we are disappointed in Judge William Mazzola's decision," said Cathie Abookire, a spokeswoman for the district attorney.
Viveiros said he was looking forward to peacefully demonstrating at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York.
April 6, 2004 6:39 PM