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2005-04-19

New York District Attorney Forced to Drop Charges in High-Profile Arrest Case from GOP Convention

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The DA’s office is expected to drop charges today against Joshua Banno — an Arizona college student who was arrested seven months ago during the Republican National Convention. The DA is dropping the charges after photographs emerged showing Banno could not have been involved in the crime. He had been facing seven years in jail. [includes rush transcript]

The City of New York has been forced to drop all charges against an activist accused of committing several serious crimes stemming from his participation in the protests at last year"s Republican National Convention. Twenty-one year-old Josh Banno said from the beginning that he was innocent of all charges against him. On the day of the half-million person march at the RNC, a large papier-mache dragon was set on fire near Madison Square Garden and police allege that at least one of their officers was injured. Police arrested Banno, accusing him of setting the fire and jailed him for six days. His bail was originally set at $200,000. He faced a series of charges including reckless endangerment and assaulting a police officer. The police charged that Banno had matches and an oven mitt in his pockets when he was arrested. The charges forced Banno to move to New York to work on his defense and his mother had to refinance her house and take a leave from her job. But as the case neared trial, Banno"s defense team obtained time-sequence photographs taken by a news photographer that showed Banno could not have set the fire. Well Josh Banno joins us in our studio today just blocks away from the courthouse where the charges against him are set to be dismissed. We are also joined by his attorney, Sabrina Shroff. She is a member of the National Lawyers Guild.

  • Joshua Banno, Arizona college student arrested during the Republican National Convention.
  • Sabrina Shroff, attorney for Joshua Banno and a member of National Lawyers Guild.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Josh joins us in our studio today. We are just blocks from the courthouse where the charges against him are set to be dismissed just after the broadcast of this program. We’re also joined by his attorney, Sabrina Shroff. She’s a member of the National Lawyers Guild. We welcome you both to Democracy now!

JOSH BANNO: Thank you, Amy.

SABRINA SHROFF: Hi.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Let’s go back to that day. It was the day before the Republican National Convention. Mass march in New York City past Madison Square Garden. It was just toward the end of the march that this papier-mâché dragon was lit on fire. Where were you?

JOSH BANNO: I was just walking right behind it along with some friends from Arizona, and right in front of us it just came, this huge fire, and we had nothing to do with it. We didn’t know who had started it. We were just there participating in the march and, all of the sudden, I was under arrest for charges unknown until —

AMY GOODMAN: The police just chose you? They just picked you out, or did they also arrest your friends?

JOSH BANNO: No, none of my friends were arrested. I was — It seemed fairly random.

AMY GOODMAN: Were other people arrested?

JOSH BANNO: Yeah. Other people were arrested. People that I didn’t know. But those people also have been vindicated from the photos that we found.

AMY GOODMAN: Were they near you?

JOSH BANNO: I really don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you were arrested. You were held for six days?

JOSH BANNO: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: And what has happened to you since?

JOSH BANNO: Since then it’s been seven months of preparing for trial and searching for evidence and trying to get through this emotionally; and it’s been a very difficult situation, but I’m very happy that it’s coming to an end.

AMY GOODMAN: Did they also charge you with putting a policeman’s hand in the fire?

JOSH BANNO: I was charged with assault on an officer, but I never assaulted an officer.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain these photographs and why they have surfaced so late. There was one photograph in the New York Daily News, is that right, that showed the fire?

JOSH BANNO: That’s right. Yeah, there was one photo that was from the Daily News. And then after, Sabrina and another member of the defense team, they decided to track down the photographer and try to find if there was more pictures from that day, from the same roll of film; and after they tracked down the photographer, they found a whole sequence of pictures, one by one showing that the fire was starting with me standing clear away from it.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, when were those photographs introduced?

JOSH BANNO: They were — we found them about two or three weeks ago?

AMY GOODMAN: Sabrina — Sabrina Shroff, can you explain the significance of these photographs? We just did a piece a few days ago about another situation, a young man who was near the Critical Mass bike ride, wasn’t a part of it, gets arrested. The case drags on for months and then videotape is found, actually police videotape, that showed a very different story than what the police had said about him being arrested, and all the charges were dropped. What about these photographs? How essential were they? What exactly position did they show Josh in?

SABRINA SHROFF: I think you were talking about Mr. Dunlop, correct?

AMY GOODMAN: Alexander Dunlop.

SABRINA SHROFF: Right. I think his video — let me just back up. We had a videotape before we ever had the photographs. I think we had the videotape almost by the end of November, December. We turned it over to the District Attorney’s office somewhere there. And the videotape showed Josh away from the fire. But that wasn’t convincing to the District Attorney’s office, I think because they — that they articulated that it was not completely exculpatory. The neat thing about the photographs was they was in time sequence; and the first — very first photograph showed there wasn’t even a fire at that time, there was just a little smoke on the right — on the left side of the dragon while Josh is standing on the right side. And then the photographer had taken four photographs in the same second at 56, and if you look at those four photographs, there’s just no way Josh could have set the fire, and run back and stood where he’s shown to be standing in the photographs. I think it was the time sequence, that it was all — all the photographs were taken on that minute that convinced the District Attorney’s office that this person could not possibly have set the fire and run back.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet what — The police have charged that they saw you do this?

JOSH BANNO: Yeah. They’ve been alleging since August that they saw me start the fire. They saw me do all of these other things with people that I allegedly knew; and none of this actually ever happened, and I didn’t know any of the people that I was arrested with, either.

AMY GOODMAN: They were from all over the world?

JOSH BANNO: Yeah. These people there were from Santa Cruz, California, from Maine, Tennessee, Ohio, and also from France and Italy. It was just a very random mix of people.

AMY GOODMAN: They were way ahead of you in the march?

JOSH BANNO: I actually don’t know where they were in the march. I know they were arrested someplace else, but I was arrested by myself. They were arrested together somewhere else.

SABRINA SHROFF: They were arrested a whole block ahead. The theory of the case had to change for them, because initially they said — the District Attorney said that these other kids formed a human chain link to stop Banno’s arrest, which was clearly not the case, because they were arrested a whole block — one whole block up, and these kids didn’t know each other at all. Not one of them knew the other.

AMY GOODMAN: What has this meant for your family? We were talking to a police representative the other day, and they said, you know, that protesters expect to be arrested. They say that they will often hold news conferences that say that’s their intention.

JOSH BANNO: Well, I certainly wasn’t intending on being arrested that day. I had plans to go back and — go back to Arizona to start school again in the fall.

AMY GOODMAN: Where do you go to school?

JOSH BANNO: I go to school at Prescott College. And as far as my family goes, this has been devastating for my mother. She’s had to go through seven months of not knowing whether or not her son was going to prison for something that he didn’t do, and my sis—

AMY GOODMAN: Is your mother here in New York?

JOSH BANNO: She is, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: But she lives in Arizona?

JOSH BANNO: Yes. She’s been out here for the last two weeks just waiting for the trial, which is not going to happen anymore.

AMY GOODMAN: And your sister?

JOSH BANNO: My sister is a student at A.S.U. in Phoenix, and she’s also just been absolutely destroyed by all of this, and I know that we’re all very happy to finally have this all cleared up, and —

AMY GOODMAN: Your dad?

JOSH BANNO: My dad lives in Fukuoka, Japan, and he’s also come out here two weeks ago, because the trial was supposed to start on the 22nd; but because of a delay, he just saw the city.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was your reaction — What was his reaction to the charges against you? Did he believe you or the police?

JOSH BANNO: At first he was kind of skeptical about what had actually happened. After we had explained to him that we had photos and pictures and told him the whole story of what actually happened, he was definitely convinced that I didn’t do anything and, ever since then, he’s been very concerned about what’s been happening. I mean, he came from Japan to here just for the trial.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we are talking to you before the dismissal. The D.A. has announced its intention. Any thoughts on that?

SABRINA SHROFF: We’re still waiting. But I think one of the things about this case that is problematic is also the over-indictment, the charges that were brought against him. He was charged with reckless endangerment and putting people’s life in danger, which was obviously just not the case. That charge should never have been brought on, that indictment. That is another thing we tried to convince the District Attorney’s office to dismiss, and it would have made a difference on the bail that was set on him, on the six days he spent in jail. So, the case itself raises implications not just simply of innocence, but also of, you know, over-indicting a person, just to hold them in. And we’re still waiting to hear at 9:30 before Judge White what the District Attorney’s office plans to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Sabrina Shroff, you’re with the National Lawyers Guild. New York settled the contempt proceedings initiated by a New York State Supreme Court judge when city officials violated multiple many release orders the judge issued on the afternoon of the 2nd in response to habeas corpus writs. Can you talk about the latest, the settlement of almost a quarter of a million dollars with arrests and false charges?

SABRINA SHROFF: I think the Guild lawyers, Liz Fink especially, worked tremendously hard to achieve the settlement. I think that the Guild is happy in terms of the fact that people who came to lawfully protest are in fact vindicated. And I think that there is at least some recognition now that people were wrongly held. They were held past the 24 hours, and the City just simply disobeyed a lawful order issued by a judge.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for joining us. Sabrina Shroff, attorney for Joshua Banno and Joshua, yourself. Do you leave today?

JOSH BANNO: I do.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you skipping town?

JOSH BANNO: I’m leaving today.

AMY GOODMAN: To go to Arizona?

JOSH BANNO: This afternoon, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Good to have you with us.

JOSH BANNO: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m headed to Tucson, Arizona as well on our "Un-Embed the Media" Tour. Maybe I will see you there.

JOSH BANNO: Hope to see you.

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