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Chicago Police Officer Testifies Sign Made by ‘NATO 3’ Could Be Used as Weapon Because of Screws

The “shield” is about three feet by three and a half feet in size and made out of recycled wood. It is painted red and has letters, which read, “Austerity Ain’t Gonna Happen.” The “A” in the word “ain’t” is an anarchist symbol. It looks more like a sign that might have been carried in a march, but prosecutors in the trial of the “NATO 3” maintain it was going to be used as a weapon.

Illinois state prosecutors are arguing a case in which three young men, Brian Jacob Church, Jared Chase, and Brent Betterly, have been accused of committing terrorism and other felony conspiracy offenses. They traveled from Florida to participate in a large protest against the NATO summit in Chicago on May 18, 2012. They were arrested and charged with plotting to commit attacks, including making Molotov cocktails, to disrupt the NATO summit. Their arrests took place on May 16, before any of the major demonstrations held in protest of the summit.

The men are being prosecuted with an unused state terrorism law passed after the September 11th attacks.

The jury heard testimony from Robert Arnolts, a Chicago police officer who worked with Officer Russell Bacius and seized the “shield” from an alley a few blocks from where Occupy Chicago headquarters was located. The officers drove in a covert vehicle to pick it up on May 14.

Nearby where they found testified to the fact that there was graffiti on walls of buildings—some “anarchy signs” and other graffiti.

There were rope handles attached to screws that “penetrated out through the front of the shield.” This was part of the prosecution’s main focus, that these screws could have done some real damage as a “weapon.”

Thomas Durkin, defense attorney for Chase, asked Arnolts if he really thought the “shield” was a “weapon.” Arnolts maintained it was because the screws were sticking out. “If it was pushed against a person, it would be a weapon.” Four to seven people behind it pushing could make it a “weapon” if it was “used in that way.”

Durkin drew attention to the fact that the screws had been in the board to attach rope handles. At least one rope handle had somehow fallen off since the police seized the “shield” and had it inventoried. (Arnolts “didn’t even know” when the handle fell off.)

Arnolts was asked if he had seen anybody use anything like this as a weapon at any marches or protests. He said no.

Had Arnolts seen any signs like this at any demonstrations? No, he said. But, Arnolts later stated, “It’s used as a weapon when used to push people out of the way.”

The screws, Arnolts said after asked to look at them, were sticking out about three quarters of an inch, which led Durkin to wonder why the young men did not have them stick out further if they were going to use this board as a weapon.

“That would be more visible and more detectable if they were using it during a march,” Arnolts surmised. So, it was “clever,” Durkin asked, to have them only protrude three quarters of an inch?

Yes, because “they painted them also” and, “I’d say it’s a form of camouflage.”

The type of testimony given was emblematic of what has been presented by prosecutors throughout the course of the trial so far. The prosecutors, with the help of Chicago police, have a sensational narrative for the case that they are trying to communicate to the jury, however, the evidence they wish they had is apparently non-existent. And so random acts of typically innocent protest activity along with boastful talk from men who were drunk and behaving stupidly combine together to form the bulk of the case the state has to make to allege these men were planning terrorism.

The state has not presented any evidence that the young men ever had formalized plans for attacking any locations in Chicago. What they are doing is arguing that the men had the wherewithal to commit attacks because they had discussed possible scenarios informally with undercover cops and so it is likely they would have done something had they not been arrested.

The “NATO 3” would have done something because they were, as undercover officer Nadia Chikko testified last week, the kind of people they were looking for during their police surveillance operation: “violent anarchists” seeking to infiltrate “peaceful protest organizations” to convince individuals to engage in criminal activity. (But did they do such a thing to any members of the Occupy movement in Chicago?)

The jury was able to see the four beer bottles that had some gasoline and pieces of cloth sticking out of each of them. They also saw photographs of the bottles where they were put in the bathroom by one of the undercover police officers for the police to find when the apartment was raided.

Police did not measure the amount of gas in the bottles. The gasoline was apparently poured out of the bottles into the toilet in the apartment by the bomb and arson technician. The contents were poured into the toilet despite the fact that when the bottles were marked as evidence they were labeled with a green “biohazard” sticker.

Julie Wessel, a fingerprint technician took the stand, to present to the jury evidence she analyzed and how she confirmed that Church’s fingerprints were on one of the beer bottles. She found two prints on one bottle, but none on the other bottles and no fingerprints from Betterly or Chase. (Whether there were fingerprints on the bottles from the two undercover cops involved was unclear.)

The state insisted on having Wessel testify, even though the defense does not contest the fact that Church’s fingerprints were found on the bottle and he touched it. They contest the timeline presented by the prosecutors—when he touched the bottle.

Durkin accused the state of wanting to show a PowerPoint presentation to the jury so they could put on a “dog and pony show” to present “some type of Crime Stoppers evidence.”

It did seem like the prosecutors wanted to dazzle the jury with the science of fingerprints, as the presentation they put on explained in general the nature of fingerprints. Essentially, the jury was treated to what at times seemed like a part of an A&E or Discovery Channel special on using fingerprints to solve crimes.

The state’s case was disrupted today when a witness, due to weather in Chicago, had their flight canceled. Another witness also apparently had a heart problem and checked into the hospital. This is why the state only made it through three witnesses today and had no others prepared.

The trial will continue tomorrow with a full day of proceedings. There is no court on Friday, and the trial is expected to go on for at least another week before closing arguments.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."