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Trespassing charges dropped against peace activists for incident at Duluth Federal Building

A St. Louis County District Court judge this afternoon dismissed misdemeanor trespassing charges against nine people who allegedly blocked the entrance of the Federal Building at Duluth's Civic Center on Sept. 21.

A St. Louis County District Court judge this afternoon dismissed misdemeanor trespassing charges against nine people who allegedly blocked the entrance of the Federal Building at Duluth's Civic Center on Sept. 21.

Judge Gerald Maher dismissed the charges after both sides asked that the charges be dismissed.

"The protestors suffered the consequence of being arrested and put in jail," Duluth City Bryan Brown wrote in a letter he asked to have included in the court record. "Although the protest resulted in the expense of police action and city prosecution, that expense must be balanced against rights of an individual to communicate his/her public concerns. Had there been violence, threats of violence, resistance to police, appearance of preparation for an assault or damage to property, or for a mass disturbance, the prosecution would seek convictions and jail time."

Jay Newcomb, one of the people arrested after trying to enter the Federal Building to see an aide of U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, called the dismissal of the charges a draw, not a victory, since it left open the question of when groups can be denied entry to a public building.

"We got off the hook, but the hook is still out there," he said.

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Newcomb said the arrest resulted in 10 hours in jail and three trips to court.

"If you don't want to go through that hassle, maybe you shouldn't go to see your elected official," he said.

Ten people were arrested during a 38-minute peaceful incident after an anti-war march and rally, part of the daylong Strike for Peace event. The event began with more than 200 people gathering at the Clayton, Jackson and McGhie Memorial to march to a noon rally against the war in Iraq at Duluth's Civic Center.

After the rally, a number of the people went to the Federal Building to visit Oberstar. According to the defendants, they had an appointment. The protest began, they said, after security officials allowed only five people to enter the building.

Nine of the 10 pleaded not guilty on Oct. 30. They were: Newcomb, Ozone Bhaguan, Kristopher Lass Dubbels, Emily Ann Gaarder, Joel Kilgour, Peter John Krause, John Michael LaForge, David Forrest Moulton and Lori Beth Seele.

The 10th defendant, Bonnie Lee Urfer, missed an Oct. 31 court appearance and a warrant for her arrest was issued that day.

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