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Lawyers Guild: Eight Observers Arrested At FTAA Talks, Four Beaten
MIAMI, Fla. -- At least eight legal observers were arrested during the Free Trade Area of the Americas meetings and four of those were beaten by police, the National Lawyers Guild announced Saturday, while dozens of protesters arrested during the weeklong event were issued bond.
Heidi Boghosian, the guild's executive director, said her group of legal observers had been unfairly targeted by police, a claim disputed by Miami police spokesman Delrish Moss.
"We know this is intentional," Boghosian said.
The New York-based National Lawyers Guild said it arranged for about 60 neutral observers, mostly law students and lawyers, to monitor police during the protest for possible civil rights abuses. The guild identifies itself as a progressive bar association that pushes for the rights of workers and minorities and fights for civil liberties.
Moss was not familiar with the individual cases, but said police would have only arrested observers if they broke the law. The group's observers wore neon green hats in an effort to distinguish themselves from the throngs of protesters.
"Legal observers would not be arrested if they were simply observers," he said. "If they crossed the line and were actually to do something like pick up a rock or bottle and throw it, they would move from observer to criminal."
Thousands of protesters descended in Miami last week to demonstrate against the trade meeting, where 34 trade ministers met to discuss the creation of the world's largest free trade area. The protests were sometimes violent, leading to about 200 demonstrators being arrested.
More than 50 jailed protesters appeared Saturday before Circuit Judge Manny Crespo on misdemeanor charges including disobeying police orders to disperse, unlawful assembly and resisting arrest. Most of the protesters were issued bonds ranging from $100 to $1,000.
Crespo withheld judgment for some who entered pleas, but ordered them to stay away from the area near the adjoining Miami-Dade County jail for five days.
In another courtroom, Judge Alex Ferrer refused to reduce bond for five people arrested on felony charges, and ordered the bond court to rehear the cases of four others. The nine had been issued bonds ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 on charges including possession of burglary tools to battery of a police officer.
Ferrer also refused to appoint a public defender to six women who did not give their names to authorities, saying they were not proven to be indigent.
In a letter sent Thursday to Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, the Lawyer's Guild said police used indiscriminate, excessive force against hundreds of nonviolent protesters.
"The reports that we're getting is that they've really never seen anything like this in terms of police arresting people without provocation," Boghosian said.