The son of civil rights organizer Belinda Parker Brown went on trial Tuesday for misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest and remaining in forbidden places during a 2012 courthouse protest over conditions at the St. Tammany Parish jail that was staged by his mother’s group, Louisiana United International.
Carl Brown, now 26, was a student at Nicholls State University at the time. He testified he was at the St. Tammany Justice Center on Aug. 3, 2012, not as a protester but to videotape the event for Louisiana United International and for his photojournalism class.
St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies who handle security at the Justice Center and defense witnesses both testified that the protest, which began at about 4 p.m., was a peaceful one.
But deputies and protesters disagreed about the response of law enforcement to the event, with deputies describing polite and patient requests for the group to move away from the courthouse to a sidewalk and protesters testifying they were ordered off the grounds with phrases like, “Get off parish land.’’
After a daylong trial at 22nd Judicial District Court, ad hoc Judge Walter Rothschild said he will review the testimony and videos of the protest and render a verdict on May 28.
Lt. David Guchereau, who heads the security force at the courthouse, said he became concerned the protest could create a problem for employees and members of the public who soon would be leaving the courthouse, which closes at 4:30 p.m. A minister who was in charge told him the group would wrap up in 10 minutes, he said, but when the protest continued, Guchereau told the minister the group would have to move.
Although some people argued, they complied, he said, except for Brown, who he said ignored requests to move on and kept on videotaping, circling around and getting behind Guchereau and others — something he and Deputy Ross Cummings described as a threat to officer safety.
When Brown ignored a third order to move on, Guchereau said, he ordered his arrest. Deputies were trying to grab Brown’s arms to handcuff him and were not trying to take away his camera, Guchereau and Cummings testified.
Cummings said that Brown, who was bigger than the deputies arresting him, dragged him and another officer about 10 feet in an effort to avoid being handcuffed and was subdued only when yet another officer grabbed his feet.
But Brown and other defense witnesses said the deputies were trying to take away his video camera, and that he raised his arms and the camera to foil their efforts, finally handing off the camera to his mother after calling for her to come to his assistance.
Assistant District Attorney Louis Butler and defense attorney Tim Yazbeck both offered videotaped testimony — a surveillance video, a YouTube video and another video shot by protester W.C. Johnson.
The raised voices of deputies and Brown were audible in the courtroom, although it was difficult to make out everything that was being said. At one point the phrase “Give me that camera’’ could be heard, as could Brown’s cries for help to his mother.
In his closing argument, Yazbeck said deputies had no reason to make the protesters move on. He said they were exercising their constitutional right to protest in a public forum and were not obstructing anyone; instead, he said, government action interfered with their rights.
“No one was in danger,’’ he said.
Brown’s arrest was not valid, Yazbeck said, arguing that the law against remaining in a place after being forbidden to do so must involve an actual place, not just behind a deputy, which he called “arbitrary and vague.’’
Brown didn’t start a fight or engage in one, Yazbeck said, and could be seen in the videos going slowly to the ground and complying with the arresting officers as soon as his mother took his camera.
Butler did not offer a closing argument or rebuttal, but he pointed to statements by Belinda Parker Brown on the videotape that indicated that the arrest was something they wanted to happen.
“This is what officers were worried about,’’ he said, calling it a change in the atmosphere of the protest.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter @spagonesadvocat.