Saturday, November 12, 2005

No new 'witch trial' as judge dismisses case against protester

via The Salem News:

By Julie Manganis
Staff writer

SALEM — Richard Sorell, the local history buff arrested for disorderly conduct while protesting the unveiling of the "Bewitched" statue in June, finally got his day in court yesterday.

And he won — a judge dismissed the charges against him.

But Sorell, 65, called yesterday's ruling "bittersweet," saying he had hoped to prove at trial that police violated his First Amendment rights — something the judge and the prosecutor said wasn't the issue at hand.

"I believe you fervently feel the feelings you have, and you were probably trying to express yourself, under the great tradition we have in America," Judge Stephen Albany told Sorell, suggesting he was simply caught up in the emotion of the situation. But, the judge added, Sorell should have been more careful.

"It's not about the First Amendment," prosecutor Cesar Archilla argued. "That's not why the police arrested Mr. Sorell. Everyone can agree Mr. Sorell had a right to espouse his view."

When he began disturbing the others around him, Archilla said, he crossed the line.

But Sorell's lawyer, Astrid AfKlinteberg, said her client believes that segregating the protesters across the street was a fundamental violation of his rights.

"It really does come down to a First Amendment value," she said.

Instead of a trial, the judge conducted an informal hearing where he invited each of the parties involved — Sorell, the 71-year-old woman he nearly knocked over and Salem police officers — to describe what happened on the afternoon of June 15, when crowds gathered to see the new statue of actress Elizabeth Montgomery, the star of the 1960s sitcom.

Sorell — indignant that the statue was erected just a few yards from where the notorious Salem witch trials had taken place — carried a sign that read: "Elizabeth Who? Is She from Salem?"

But he says he was forced to the back of the crowd, and across the street, by Salem police officers.

"If you were in favor, you could get right up front," Sorell told the judge yesterday. "If you were opposed, you had to go back and across the street."

That, Sorell thought, was unfair. He wanted his sign to be seen on camera. So, he acknowledged, he began working his way to the front of the crowd, carrying his large sign.

Sorell complained to the judge that police had no right to separate the two sides, comparing it to segregation based on race or religion. But Albany advised him that under the law, even if someone is treated unfairly by police, the place to fight it is in court.

"They arrest you, you sue the pants off of them," Albany quipped.

"That's why we're here," Sorell said.

"Why we're here today is because you are accused of a crime," the judge shot back.

Salem police Capt. Robert Callahan said police weren't looking to arrest anyone that day. "We didn't want him hitting and elbowing other people," he said. When Sgt. Mark Riley saw the woman nearly knocked to the ground, he had no choice, Callahan said.

Sorell was adamant that he did not assault anyone, demonstrating how he was carrying his sign with his elbows down. And the judge agreed that even if he did nearly knock someone over, he didn't intend for it to happen.

Sorell apologized to Mary L'Heureux, the 71-year-old Salem woman he nearly knocked over. She said she was satisfied with the apology.

"I came to do my civic duty, and that's the way the judge ruled," L'Heureux said after the hearing.

Even though the case was dismissed, Sorell said he's still upset about the way he was treated that day.

"This isn't over," he said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mr. Sorrell needs to focus on some things that REALLY matter...

like Alabama football!

A Bama Fan