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THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION

Protesters Denounce High Bail Amounts for Jailed Leaders

August 04, 2000|TINA DAUNT and NICHOLAS RICCARDI | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

PHILADELPHIA — With bails set as high as $1 million, hundreds of protesters arrested earlier in the week remained behind bars Thursday as the Republican National Convention drew to a close.

Police said some of those arrested were deliberately tying up the system by declining to give their names and otherwise refusing to cooperate with authorities. However, protesters, their attorneys and civil libertarians accused police of abusing some of those in jail and setting excessively high bail amounts.

"What we are seeing in Philadelphia is nothing less than a civil rights catastrophe of the first order," said Ronald McGuire, an attorney representing many of the protesters. "This is nothing less than political detention."

Protesters said they believed the bails were being set high to keep demonstrators off the streets. In one case, John Sellers, the high-profile director of a roving boot-camp for protesters, was being held on $1-million bail for a variety of misdemeanors, his lawyers said.

The activists alleged that the high amount was an effort to keep Sellers, who heads the Ruckus Society training camp, out of Los Angeles during the Democratic National Convention later this month.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney acknowledged that the police had arrested the leaders of the various protest groups. However, he insisted that his department had probable cause. "There's a cadre of the so-called leaders that I think is very concerning, and some people need to do something about."

The protest leaders were among 369 people arrested during or shortly after sometimes-violent clashes with police, most of which occurred Tuesday. Several dozen protesters continued their vigil Thursday outside the downtown facility where many demonstrators were being held.

Larry Frankel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, gave the police department "a mixed grade" on their handling of the protests, praising their general restraint in the field. But he raised concerns about their raid of what was described by activists as an art workshop in West Philadelphia, where protesters were making puppets.

"What it seems is they went out with this [search] warrant to prevent people from taking part in these activities," Frankel said. Still, he said police handled peaceful demonstrations Sunday and Monday admirably and generally did a good job during Tuesday's unruly actions. "The police in many cases, not all, did show patience, did show restraint."

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