Cannabis Culture photojournalist Pete Brady, who was beaten by US Park Police officers while photographing police abuses at a July 4th marijuana rally in Washington, DC, appeared in DC Superior Court on October 25 to face what his lawyer called a “sham charge” of assaulting a police officer.
Officers beat and arrested Brady in front of 200 witnesses, injuring him so severely that he was later taken to DC General Hospital. Adding insult to injury, they charged him with assaulting a police officer.
Believing that prosecutors would examine the evidence and realize that police had filed a false charge against him, Brady initially felt comfortable being represented by a public defender.
“Marijuana and civil disobedience defendants need to know that public defenders rarely have the time, resources or expertise to win complex cases,” Brady said. “I told my public defender what motions to file, emphasizing the fact that I was tape recording the incident and that officers stole the tape recorder from my partner after I was thrown to the ground. All we had to do was get the tape recording, and we could then prove definitively that I never assaulted anybody, but was myself a victim of an assault committed by police. I felt confident that prosecutors would choose not to bother prosecuting this case.”
At Brady’s first court appearance, however, he learned that the prosecutors weren’t paying any attention to the obvious flaws in their case. Brady also found that while his public defender was a “nice man,” he was also overwhelmed by his caseload and never had time to aggressively pursue the missing tape recording or other obvious examples of police misconduct.
“I decided to fire the public defender, and was assisted in my decision by Cannabis Culture magazine, which provided financial support for a private lawyer who cared about justice, and who has a history of defending victims of government abuse,” Brady said, referring to attorney Jeff Orchard, the acting director of litigation for NORML.
Orchard immediately filed comprehensive dismissal motions alleging that police had violated Brady’s rights as a journalist and citizen.
“It was clear that their actions were designed to prevent Brady as a member of the press from documenting what they were doing at the July 4th smoke-in,” Orchard explained. “Police are public employees accountable to all of us. Journalists serve a vital purpose by providing the public with reports on what police do to us. The police didn’t want their actions witnessed, and they used excessive force to prevent Brady from doing his job. Then they filed a false charge against him.”
Orchard said too many innocent people are found guilty in DC courts, but that Brady’s chances of beating the false charge were greatly assisted by the presiding judge.
“Judge Milliken ordered the prosecution to respond to my dismissal motion before the trial date,” Orchard said. “They didn’t respond, and even though I had all our witnesses lined up and was actually looking forward to cross-examining the arresting officers under oath, I was fairly certain that the charge would be dismissed. When we went into court that day, the prosecution had nothing to say at all, and Judge Milliken promptly dismissed the charge. We count it as a victory, but we must remember that my client was injured, lost four months of freedom and peace of mind, along with some of his film, his tape recorder and a camera lens, and was subject to arrest and imprisonment if he failed to appear in court.”
Orchard said his experience in Brady’s case and in other civil liberties cases has caused him to work with NORML executive director Keith Stroup in a project that will result in free guidance for defendants who might find themselves inadequately represented by public defenders or private attorneys.
“Keith and I know that NORML has a nationwide network of dedicated attorneys who do everything possible to make themselves useful for our constituents,” Orchard said. “But there are circumstances when defendants do not have access to these attorneys. It will help everyone if defendants know their legal rights and the options available to them. NORML intends to continue its long tradition of providing maximum assistance to people who have been snared by unjust laws.”
Brady must now decide whether to file a lawsuit against the officers involved.
“The lawsuit system is stacked against defendants abused by police. I’d have to pay all the legal bills and wait through years and years of depositions and government delay tactics. I feel that the organizers of the July 4th event set up the crowd to be busted by not constantly intervening when police began poaching on their audience, and that their puzzling passivity led police to believe they could do whatever they wanted. I wish that Vivian McPeak [the founder-director of the Seattle Hempfest]would provide training to people who want to run marijuana events; he knows how to run a safe, fun marijuana event. I’m not going to let this incident stop me from providing quality information and photographs to Cannabis Culture readers, but I am going to be wearing a rib brace and have a videographer, attorney and ambulance present from now on whenever I photograph dangerous police officers,” Brady said.
BRADY’S photographs and article from the July 4th rally are available in the latest issue of Cannabis Culture magazine.
Jeffr Orchard can be reached at NORML’s offices at 202-483-5500 or at his private law office, 202-333-6173.
* NORML’s website www.norml.org