Carl Brown, who was videotaping a courthouse protest organized by his mother’s civil rights organization in August 2012, was found guilty Wednesday of two misdemeanor counts stemming from that demonstration and subsequent efforts by St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies to move protesters off the courthouse grounds.
Ad hoc Judge Walter Rothschild, who heard testimony in the case last week at 22nd Judicial District Court, said he had carefully reviewed videotapes, which he said show a minister who was in charge of the protest leading people away and everyone else following deputies’ orders to move.
“Mr. Brown is the only one who disobeyed the order,’’ Rothschild said, finding him guilty of remaining in a place after being forbidden to do so and resisting arrest.
The judge noted that Brown, 26, had just graduated from college and had no criminal record. He called the arrest an aberration and said the defendant “made a mistake.’’
He sentenced him to six months of inactive probation, during which time he must pay a $250 fine and do 20 hours of community service.
The judge said Brown can’t serve those hours for his mother’s organization, Louisiana United International. Belinda Parker Brown had organized the Aug. 4, 2012, protest that ended in her son’s arrest.
“My son wasn’t on trial,’’ she said after the verdict. “I was the one on trial, and the citizens of St. Tammany Parish were on trial.’’
She said her son’s arrest and the way deputies reacted to protesters — telling them to get off parish land — have made people in her group reluctant to participate in other demonstrations at the St. Tammany Justice Center in Covington.
Tim Yazbeck, Carl Brown’s attorney, said the verdict could serve to further discourage demonstrators. He noted, however, that deputies didn’t do anything to stop a second demonstration by LUI and actually gave protesters water bottles, which he said shows they realized they handled the first event badly.
Belinda Parker Brown’s most recent action has been to complain to St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain about emails containing racist jokes that Sheriff’s Office Capt. Bobby Juge sent to other deputies and officials.
Strain was also the focus of the 2012 demonstration at the south entrance of the courthouse. The demonstration was staged to protest conditions at the St. Tammany Parish jail outlined in a Department of Justice report, including the use of 3-foot-by-3-foot holding cells known as “squirrel cages,’’ which were ostensibly used to hold mentally ill and suicidal prisoners.
Belinda Parker Brown said that after her son’s arrest, he was placed in one of the squirrel cages, an action that she said was retaliatory.
Yazbeck said his client had a constitutional right to be outside the courthouse during the first protest. He pointed out that the deputy who had given the order for protesters to move testified that he had forbidden the defendant to be “behind’’ him.
That was not a valid application of the law, Yazbeck said, but the judge nevertheless said Brown had remained in a place — the courthouse grounds — after being forbidden.
Yazbeck said that because the arrest was invalid, so was the charge of resisting arrest.
While he disagreed with the judge’s verdict, Yazbeck said that by imposing an exceptionally light sentence, Rothschild was sending a message about what he thought of the case against Brown.
Brown filed a suit in U.S. District Court a year ago alleging that his civil rights were violated at the protest. It named Strain, the Sheriff’s Office and the arresting deputies as defendants. In March, U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon granted a motion to stay action on the suit until the criminal case against Brown was complete.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.