Prosecutor offers community service
By Greg Elias
Protesters arrested during an anti-war, anti-recruiting demonstration in Williston have accepted a deal under which charges will be dropped when they complete 15 hours of community service.
Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan said Monday that he offered the arrangement to 13 protesters arrested on trespassing charges. Donovan said he is still waiting to hear from one or two protesters, but most have accepted the offer.
They are allowed to choose the type of community service. It could involve work on behalf of the anti-war movement, perhaps even a peaceful protest.
"The only limitation was that I said it had to be legal," Donovan said, adding that he wanted to ensure it didn't involve another protest that includes civil disobedience.
On Nov. 30, dozens of protesters marched on a pair of military recruiting offices in Maple Tree Place. They at first massed in front of the recruiting office for the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines on the east side of the shopping center's central green. But when they found that office deserted, protesters drifted over to the nearby Vermont Army National Guard office.
Some harangued recruiters while others sat in a circle on the floor. Police eventually ordered protesters to leave or be arrested. Thirteen refused and were cited for trespassing.
The protest was organized by a group of students at Mount Mansfield Union High School. They are unhappy with recruiting practices, specifically a provision of the No Child Left Behind Act that requires high schools to give students' names and phone numbers to the military.
The deal offered by Donovan averted a trial. Jury selection was slated to begin Monday. Under state law, trespassing is punishable by three months in jail and/or a $500 fine.
About half of those arrested have already completed the community service, which must be verified in writing by another person, Donovan said.
Donovan, a Democrat elected in 2006, told the Observer last month that he was trying to balance defendants' First Amendment rights with his duty to enforce the law.
He said he weighs several factors, including whether a protest involves violence, property damage or business disruptions, to decide the appropriate punishment. Donovan said the Williston protest clearly interfered with recruitment and obstructed traffic at Maple Tree Place.
He said on Monday that the deal he offered to Williston protesters would not set a precedent for future demonstrations.
"I think what you do is look at these on a case-by-case basis," Donovan said. "I'm not going to prepare a set of guidelines saying this is what is going to happen if you protest."