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Activist prevails in Pride Parade case

Windy City Times - LINK
News update Friday, Aug. 13, 2010
by Kate Sosin

GLN permalink 8-13-2010

LGBT activist Andy Thayer prevailed in an Aug. 11 case in which the city of Chicago brought charges against him over an incident at this year's Pride Parade.

Thayer was certain he would lose his case against the City of Chicago. He said so. His lawyer said so. His supporters plotted their appeal before the doors of room 108 even opened for trial.

"The burden of proof is so low for the other side," Thayer told a reporter. "It's such a kangaroo court."

Thayer was cited June 27 during the parade because his organization, the Gay Liberation Network ( GLN ) , refused to move a 14-foot scaffold that blocked anti-gay protesters. Chicago Police Department ( CPD ) officials alleged that GLN had no permit for the scaffold. However, Thayer said that Commander Frank Gross, who heads the CPD special events division, gave GLN permission.

The two sides faced off over a $1,000 fine.

According to both parties, Thayer was ticketed after refusing to remove a scaffold at the corner of Pine Grove and Diversey. The scaffold, which GLN rolled in the parade, was decorated in large signs with political messages. Thayer said that Gross agreed that GLN members could park their parade entry alongside the parade if they wanted to stop. GLN stopped directly in front of anti-gay protesters, partially blocking the protesters from view of spectators. Police told Thayer to remove the scaffold, and he refused.

Representing the city, Scott Sachnoff argued that Thayer's refusal to remove the scaffold led to his charge of "disobeying lawful order of a police officer." Sachnoff told Judge Zipporah J. Lewis that the scaffold was a violation of parade permits because the GLN contingent had been registered with the pride committee as a truck.

Thayer's attorney, Jeffrey Frank, called the charges "unwarranted" and "arbitrary." According to the citation, Frank said, Thayer had been issued a traffic ticket. Frank also alleged that police "spent an hour trying to figure out what to charge Thayer with" and that they had decided that Thayer "once again needed to be taught a lesson." Frank asked CPD Deputy Chief Bruce Rottner, who ordered ticket, if all gay pride floats could be ticketed for breaking traffic laws. Rottner said he was not sure.

Officer Christine Alessi, who wrote the ticket, told the court that "the concern was about the safety of the scaffolding, not about Mr. Thayer and his right to protest." Alessi and Rottner testified that no one from the city had inspected the rolling scaffold and that they feared it was unstable.

Rottner claimed that he phoned Gross during the parade to ask if Gross had given permission to Thayer to put a scaffold at Diversey and Pine Grove. But Gross said that Rottner left him a voicemail, explaining that Thayer had "erected" a "20-foot scaffold." He added that Rottner told him that Thayer "used your name, and we had to give Andy a citation."

According to Gross, Thayer was not given permission to build a scaffold. He said that parade organizers worried that GLN would stop mid-parade to protest as they allegedly did in 2009. Gross said that he was asked to speak with Thayer proactively.

"I said that I would be happy to call Andy and ask him not to do that again," testified Gross, who has negotiated permits with Thayer in the past. "I asked Andy to agree to not block the parade and pull over to the side."

Frank argued that Thayer made good on that promise. But Sachnoff said the case had nothing to do with the parade. "It's about lawful order of police order," he told the court.

After more than two hours off cross-examination, Lewis ruled in favor of Thayer. She said the city did not make clear why Thayer was being charged with traffic violations.

Thayer expressed surprise over the decision. "To his credit, Commander Gross told the truth," Thayer told reporters. Thayer called the ordeal a miscommunication between Gross, Rottner and reporting officers. "They didn't have the maturity to say 'We screwed up.'"


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