Occupy Wall Street activist, Michael Premo was acquitted of assaulting a police officer, amongst other charges, at a December 17, 2011 OWS demonstration in Lower Manhattan. Video evidence of the incident was presented and jurors found him not guilty.
The video, which was shot by Jon Gerberg, then freelancing for Democracy Now, was central to Premo's acquittal.
In the court case on Thursday this week, Premo was acquitted of all charges once jurors were presented with the video evidence (shown above), that clearly directly contradicts the story told by the New York Police department (NYPD)
Prosecutors for the NYPD had insisted that Premo, who is a well known artist and activist, had tackled an NYPD officer during the protest and had inflicted enough damage to break a bone.
Since Premo's arrest, his supporters have insisted on his innocence, with a colleague, Rachel Falcone telling Free Speech Radio News this week, “They're trying to make something out of nothing and they're trying to charge him with something that didn't actually occur.”
After his arrest, the District Attorney's office in Manhattan reportedly presented Premo with a deal that would have let him off the hook by pleading guilty to lesser charges. However, he maintained his innocence and was determined to fight the case in court.
Nick Pinto of the Village Voice recalled watching Premo's arrest from a distance. In his report he explains that the information provided by the NYPD in the trial was fabricated to such a degree that the allegations made by the police officers have turned out to be quite literally the opposite of what actually happened.
“Premo charged the police like a linebacker, taking out a lieutenant and resisting arrest so forcefully that he fractured an officer's bone. That's the story prosecutors told in Premo's trial, and it's the general story his arresting officer testified to under oath as well,” Pinto writes.
He added that the defendant's attorneys performed a lengthy search to try and find video that verified their own account and they found the video published by Democracy Now.
“Far from showing Premo tackling a police officer,” writes Pinto, that video “shows cops tackling him as he attempted to get back on his feet.”
Not only that, as the footage also showed an NYPD officer also filming the arrest, even though prosecutors told Premo's attorney that no such footage existed.
Premo's attorney presented the video in court, showing the police officers charging into the defendant unprovoked. Jurors then deliberated for several hours and elected to find Premo not guilty on all counts, including the felony charge of assaulting an officer of the law.
Premo tweeted after he was acquitted, saying "There is no justice in the American justice system, but you can sometimes find it in a jury.”
Premo is well known as a central figure for the Occupy Wall Street movement. Premo also led an initiative "Occupy Sandy Relief" in the New York area to provide relief for those affected by last year's Superstorm Sandy and also advocates for fair housing.
He told the Voice, "The biggest thing for me coming out of this is not being discouraged by the attempts of New York City to quell dissent and prevent us from expressing our constitutional rights."
The New York Pirate Party reported on Premo's acquittal, quoting their Operations Officer Zacquary Adam Green as saying, “The police are supposed to protect us, but they committed perjury to save themselves.”
“This is unacceptable, but it’s the kind of behavior that activists, racial minorities, and poor people have come to expect from the NYPD for decades. This is what radicalizes people, and gets people angry enough to shout scary things like, ‘f— the police.’ When law enforcement behaves this way, it makes laws themselves illegitimate.”
This is not the first win against the NYPD in an Occupy-related court case. Digital Journal reported back in May 2012 on the case of Alexander Arbuckle, who was arrested for allegedly blocking traffic during a protest march early on New Years' Day and was charged with disorderly conduct.
The ironic part of that case was that Arbuckle was not in any way related to the Occupy movement and was not actually involved in the protest. In fact, he felt the police were not being fairly represented in the media. It was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but luckily Arbuckle was acquitted due to the video evidence produced by citizen journalist, Tim Pool, and may have changed his opinion of the NYPD.
One of Premo's lawyers, Meghan Maurus, told the Village Voice that the case highlights the importance of having the press, livestreamers and professional video journalists present during demonstrations.
"That was really important," Maurus said. "Without that evidence, this would have been a very different case. There are many, many cases that don't have so much video evidence to challenge the police version of events, but in this case, we did."