On July 8, 2002, Jenna Barrett, Denell Fahy, and Karl Johnson, along with the other members of the radical marching band Infernal Noise Brigade, showed up in full regalia at a downtown Umpqua bank. Acting as a good-natured thorn in the side of Umpqua's board chairman, who has holdings with firms directly responsible for eradicating forests, they had planned to let their drumsticks do the talking.
A few minutes into their routine of toy rifle twirling and banner waving, the property manager of Umpqua approached drum major Johnson and told him the Noise Brigade would be arrested if they didn't leave. During last week's trial, the prosecution alleged that Johnson had to be asked twice to vacate the premises before he was forcibly removed.
One police report portrayed the Noise Brigade as a particularly menacing group: "I personnally [sic] viewed the flag poles and oversized drum sticks [sic] as potenially [sic] being used to cause physical ham [sic] to myself, other officers, or members of public,Ó wrote the arresting officer.
But the defense presented a videotape showing a vastly different scenario: Immediately after speaking with the property manager, Johnson gave a signal for his fellow protesters to retreat. Despite his hulking frame, Johnson is hardly intimidating--yet 25 seconds later, he was tackled by police.
Seconds later, Fahy, another member of the Noise Brigade, was arrested and charged with harassment, interfering with police, and resisting arrest. She had approached Johnson to make sure he was okay. When two officers began tugging her in opposite directions, she tried to struggle free. Barrett, the third defendant was charged with interfering with police. When police tackled Johnson, her legs became entangled with his.
Yet despite the overwhelming video-graphic evidence supporting the defense, for the past year the DA's office has been hell-bent on pursuing the case. Until a week before the trial, the three defendants faced a slew of charges and up to a year in prison each. Some of the charges were dropped only days before the trial began. But even so, each defendant still faced up to a year in prison for the other alleged violations.
"What's played out with this prosecutor is a veneer of what's really going on: They don't want to admit they're wrong... ever!Ó said Jonah Paisner, who represented Johnson. "When [the police] face off with radical protesters they won't back down even if they've been shown to be wrong or overreacting,Ó he explained. Smiling, Paisner added, "There's a lot of comedy to this [case]. It's basically about a band in a bank lobby.Ó
However, after many sleepless nights since their arrests, Johnson, Fahy, and Barrett are hard pressed to find the humor in any of this. Johnson feels it was a calculated move on the part of the prosecution to keep them tangled in the legal system for as long as possible.
"It's been a tactic they've used against anyone who won't comply,Ó he said. "If they waste a year of my life, then I'm not doing the other things they don't like.Ó
On Friday, both Johnson and Fahy were acquitted of all charges. However, Barrett was convicted for interfering with police. At press time, a judge was still determining her sentence, which could include up to a year in prison.
For more information about the Noise Brigade, email firstname.lastname@example.org.