First Amendment Rights? Not In This County!

Posted: September 20th, 2007 by Militant Libertarian

The Defendants
Sarah M. Hartfield is a 45-year-old woman who lives in Naperville. A proud mother of two beautiful daughters and the grandmother of two young boys. She’s a dedicated hospice health care worker. Jeff Zurawski is a 39-year-old man residing in Downers Grove. He is a self-employed, professional home inspector who has a passion for the great outdoors, especially fishing and camping.

Sarah and Jeff are fed up with the war in Iraq and the Bush Administration. They believe America is in deep trouble because the White House is aggressively pursuing policies that have led to mass death and destruction. They took action.

Timeline of Events
May 6th – Jeff and Sarah displayed a homemade banner that read, “IMPEACH Bush & Cheney – LIARS” on a pedestrian bridge over Highway I355 in view of motorists. Alongside the banner was an upside down American flag, which is a well-known traditional distress signal. After ninety minutes or so, an Illinois State Trooper stopped and politely asked the duo to remove their signs. Jeff and Sarah respectfully complied with the officer’s request. Then, three DuPage County Sheriff’s Deputies arrived. One Deputy accused them of throwing things from the bridge and took issue with the upside down flag, which he said was a show of disrespect to him, being a war veteran, and to h is son who is serving in Afghanistan. The Deputy threatened to arrest Jeff and Sarah and said he would call the States Attorney. The two were eventually released without a citation.

May 25th – Jeff was arrested at his home and taken to DuPage County Jail in handcuffs where he spent over seven hours in custody. Sarah turned herself in a few days later. She was also placed in handcuffs and spent two hours in custody being processed. The two were charged with ‘disorderly conduct’, a class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 3 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

June 27th – Jeff and Sarah appeared in court with a support group consisting of friends, family, and local activists. Their lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the charges and requested a jury trial.

July 6th – DuPage County States Attorney Joseph Birkett amended the ‘disorderly conduct’ charge to include additional counts of ‘reckless conduct’ and ‘unauthorized display of sign’, each class A misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail and $2500 fine.

July 16th – Jeff and Sarah appeared in court with their attorney and dedicated support group. The prosecutor offered a plea bargain, which was declined.

July 30th – A jury trial was scheduled for October 15th at 9:30am, DuPage County Criminal Court, Building 505, Room 4007.

The Charges and The Facts
Disorderly Conduct 720 ILCS 5/26-1(a)(1) – “Defendant knowingly without a county permit, staged a war protest on the Great Western Trail overpass in unincorporated DuPage County, Illinois causing a traffic disturbance because unknown objects were being thrown onto the expressway, as well as the American flag bei ng displayed in an upside down manner from the overpass.”

Reckless Conduct 720 ILCS 5/12-5(a) – ” Defendant endangered the bodily safety of motorists traveling on southbound I-355 approaching a highway overpass, known as the Great Western Trail Overpass, in that, while acting in a reckless manner, threw debris from the Great Western Trail Overpass onto southbound I-355, while motorists were plainly visible and were traveling in close proximity to the overpass.”

FACT: Jeff and Sarah did not throw anything from the overpass.
FACT: Traffic flowed normally during the protest.
FACT: No law prohibits displaying an American flag in an upside down manner, which is a well-known traditional distress signal.

Unauthorized Display of Sign 625 ILCS 11-310(a) – “Defendant displayed an unauthorized sign and upside down American flag on a highway overpass, known as The Great Western Trail Overpass, which interfered with the movement of traffic.”

What The Law Book Says: “Unauthorized Display of Sign – No person shall place, maintain or display upon or in view of any highway any unauthorized sign, signal, marking, or device which purports to be or is an imitation of or resembles an official traffic-control device or railroad sign or signal, or which attempts to direct the movement of traffic, or which hides from view or interferes with the movement of traffic or the effectiveness of an official traffic-control device or any railroad sign or signal.”

FACT: Jeff’s and Sarah’s “IMPEACH Bush & Cheney – LIARS” sign and upside down flag didn’t purport to be or in any way resemble an official traffic control device or railroad sign.
FACT: Jeff’s and Sarah’s signs did not attempt to direct, nor did they interfere with, the movement of traffic.
FACT: There are no traffic control devices or railroad signs anyplace near the bridge where Jeff and Sarah stood with their display.
FACT: The signs were displayed against the inside of the bridge’s eight-foot-tall chain link fencing. There was no danger of them falling off the bridge.
FACT: The Illinois State Trooper who first arrived at the scene did not ask Jeff and Sarah for their identification, nor did he receive any complaints regarding traffic disturbances or objects being thrown from the bridge.

** This Peaceful Event Is Being Held Near A Busy Workplace. We Must Always Be Respectful Of The Workers and Visitors.**

What You Can Do To Help
Attend the peaceful demonstration at the States Attorney building (503 N County Farm Rd) on October 11th at 12:00 noon. Stand up for Free Speech Rights!

Contact the States Attorney and request that all charges against Jeff and Sarah be dismissed.

Joseph Birket, States Attorney
503 N County Farm Rd
Wheaton, IL 60187

Contact the DuPage County Sheriff. Let him know what you think about his Deputies’ behavior.
John E. Zaruba, DuPage County Sheriff
501 N. County Farm Rd.
Wheaton, IL 60187
630 407-2400

Support Jeff and Sarah and the 1st Amendment by attending the trial -October 15th, 9:30am, 505 N County Farm Rd, Room 4007. It is expected to last 2-4 days.

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