Trial starts for woman charged after '06 talk

BY JULIE ROWE
Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 27, 2007

A trial is set to begin today for an Ann Arbor doctor charged with impeding police and emergency medical technicians after an incident last year in which protesters were arrested after disrupting a lecture in the Michigan League.

Jury selection for the case took place yesterday in 15th District Court.

Prosecutors will try to show that Catherine Wilkerson interfered with the arrest of Blaine Coleman, a protester at the November 2006 event.

Wilkerson's attorneys, Hugh Davis and Wilson Tanner, will assert that Wilkerson was responding to police brutality and harmful treatment of Coleman by an emergency medical technician, Davis said.

The lecture on U.S. foreign policy in Iran, given by Georgetown University Prof. Raymond Tanter, was met with protest from several Ann Arbor residents, who heckled and interrupted Tanter throughout his speech.

Protesters chanted "Hands off Iran" and "Tanter is a pig". Tanter said he abandoned his planned remarks in response to the interruptions and instead answered questions from audience members and protesters.

The protesters were accusing Tanter of being a supporter of unjustified military action in Iran and the Middle East.

Wilkerson is charged with two misdemeanors charges for attempting to assault, obstruct or resist a police officer and an emergency medical technician.

According to the Diane Brown, Department of Public Safety spokeswoman, several warnings were issued to the protesters that their interruptions violated the University's policies for protest during a speech.

"No matter how controversial a speaker is, that speaker needs to be able to speak. That's the whole point of freedom of speech," Brown said. "You can't just say 'I don't like what they've got to say.' They must be able to hold their event."

The University's Standard Practice Guide for Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression attempts to balance the rights of speakers and protesters by allowing heckling that does not impede the message of speakers.

After American Movement for Israel Chair Josh Berman and other organizers issued three warnings to protesters, DPS officers attempted to remove one of the female protesters. Coleman attempted to prevent the officers from removing her. Both responded to DPS attempts to remove them by going limp.

Brown told The Michigan Daily after the incident that this is a tactic used frequently by protesters.

The sequence of events following Coleman's removal from the room will be contested at the trial.

During pretrial activities yesterday, Davis said, "There were numerous witnesses outside. Each saw something; almost none saw everything."

In an article Wilkerson submitted to CounterPunch - a political newsletter - she claimed that the DPS officials removed the two from the room by force. Wilkerson said she then left the room to investigate the "commotion" she heard in the hallway.

She said she believed the officer was pinning Coleman to the ground in such a way that would prevent his lungs from inflating. After telling the officer she was a doctor, she instructed him to turn Coleman onto his back. The officer followed her direction.

In the article, Wilkerson said that after Coleman was turned over, she noticed that he was unconscious.

Though Brown would not specifically name Coleman, she disputed the claim that the man lying on the ground was badly hurt.

"One of the people who claimed he was hurt during this whole thing was supposedly laying on the ground receiving medical attention," she said. "But periodically his eye would open up."

After paramedics arrived, police removed Coleman's handcuffs and attempted to revive him. One tactic they tried was the use of ammonia inhalants.

In the article, Wilkerson said that she then told the paramedic: "What you're doing is punitive and has no efficacy."

Wilkerson said she complied with an Ann Arbor police officer's order to step away from Coleman. Wilkerson claimed that as she left, the Ann Arbor officer attacked her from behind and used excessive force to restrain her.

Coleman was taken to the University hospital to treat a cut on his forehead. He and two other protesters were charged with resisting a police officer. All three pled guilty and were sentenced to a fine and probation.

At the end of January, Wilkerson and four other protesters filed a complaint of police brutality with the Ann Arbor Police Department. The Ann Arbor police investigated the incident, but determined that officers didn't respond in an inappropriate manner, the Ann Arbor News reported.

The Washtenaw County prosecutor trying the case, Margaret Connors, declined to comment.