INDEPENDENT NEWS

Silly String "Assault" Hangs S.F. Jury

Published: Thu 23 Nov 2000 01:03 PM
November 22, 2000
Contact: David Pasquarelli - (415) 637-4666 Todd Swindell - (415) 864-6686
Prosecutor Fails To Convict AIDS Dissidents For Alleged Battery Of City Health Official
SAN FRANCISCO -- After a week of hearing testimony and eight hours of deliberation, a San Francisco jury refused to convict two members of the controversial, direct action group ACT UP for an alleged battery of Dr. Mitch Katz, Director of the city's Department of Public Health (DPH). In fact, eight out of eleven total charges filed against ACT UP members Todd Swindell and David Pasquarelli for disrupting a city hearing investigating bogus HIV rates resulted in a hung jury or verdicts of not guilty.
The misdemeanor charges, ranging from violent offenses like battery and resisting arrest to nonviolent infractions of disrupting a public meeting, disturbing the peace and violating a court protective order stemmed from the duos colorful antics of tossing fliers and spraying Silly String during the controversial city hearing. San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano called the hearing to get to the bottom of DPH claims that HIV transmission in the city inexplicably soared from endemic to sub-Saharan African levels over a three-month period. Activists charge that the sudden HIV surge, broadcast to the public through an alarmist June 30 front-page San Francisco Chronicle story, was an antigay attempt to secure more federal funding at a time when ACT UP members declare that "AIDS is over."
The trial -- featuring days of witness testimony by DPH Director Katz, Project Inform staff members Judy Leahy, Peggy Taylor and Founding Director Martin Delaney as well as from three City Hall sheriffs -- is the latest attempt by institutions rotten with corruption to silence ACT UP members that frequently criticize AIDS causation, testing, treatment, funding and policy. The accused activists, confident that prosecutor Ana Gonzales failed to meet the burden of proof for the charges, rested their case without testifying by relying on expert closing arguments from defense attorneys Brian Petersen and Michael Guingona.
"Once presented with Katz's incompetence and Delaney's slimy demeanor, it's clear the jury saw this case for what it was: an underhanded attempt to criminalize debate and silence AIDS dissent," commented defendant David Pasquarelli.
ACT UP members are quick to point out that despite their victory, the jury's decision on three of the eleven counts present puzzling legal paradoxes that they plan to challenge.
Most importantly, defendant Swindell was convicted of violating a civil court order issued by Judge Ina Levin Gyemant protecting Project Inform's Leahy who was one of the over 200 attendees present at the HIV hearing. Oddly enough, the jury found Pasquarelli innocent of the same charge although he was also present at the hearing and, like Swindell, was unaware of Leahy's presence. According to ACT UP members Project Inform was recently granted the severe set of restraining orders based on its employee's perjured testimony in order to stop ACT UP's participation in public meetings about AIDS.
Similarly strange, both activists were convicted of disturbing the peace while the jury deadlocked over whether their loud chants of "There's no surge of HIV! Ditch Mitch Katz!" constituted a disruption of the public meeting. Activists say they plan to appeal the three convictions.
"Today was our victory over a vindictive AIDS industry responsible for the stigmatization and murder of gay men," declared defendant Todd Swindell. "The truth is, it's this poisonous industry that is violent, not us. Finally, twenty years of their killer karma is coming home to roost."
Dr. Mitch Katz could not be reached for comment on ACT UP's court coup as he was out of the country vacationing in Spain.

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