After facing eight years in prison for the “crime” of videotaping a court security officer, George Donnelly accepted a plea deal where he only had to pay a $500 fine.
Still, the 39-year-old activist has regrets because the plea deal forced him to admit to a crime he did not commit.
But considering how biased the system proved to be against him from the time he was arrested to the moment he faced the judge, it was probably his best bet.
“I wanted to put their feet to the fire but my attorney was busy and he didn’t have time to do that,” he said in an interview with Photography is Not a Crime.
“I was also under a lot of financial pressure.”
The absurd case against Donnelly proves what PINAC reader Sydney Carton, who is an attorney, once stated in the comments section of this blog.
“Once you walk into a courtroom, you’ve already lost. The best way to win is to avoid it at all costs, because the ‘justice system’ is anything but.”
Donnelly, who finalized his plea deal during a September 1 hearing, produced the above video with clips from the May 11 incident in which he was accused of striking a female court security officer.
The video shows it was actually him who was assaulted by a male security officer.
Not surprisingly, federal marshals deleted footage from two video cameras as well as audio from a voice recorder before returning the devices to him months later.
However, he was able to retrieve footage from one camera and the audio from the voice recorder to include in the above video. The footage from his Flip camera, which he pulled out after they had confiscated his Canon, was corrupted when he recovered it and unable to be used.
But enough was recovered to prove they created the case against him simply because they did not like him videotaping them. The action starts around the 3:43 mark.
“The security grabbed my camera and I held on to it,” he said. “I was hunched over with my hands between my knees holding my camera and they piled on me. They knocked me down.
“A marshal put his knee in my mouth and they got my camera.”
U.S. Marshal Enrique Trevino then pulled him up and sat him on a statue. Donnelly pulled out the Homeland Security bulletin that states that photography of federal buildings is legal.
Donnelly then pulled out his Flip camera and began videotaping, but Trevino told him it was “illegal to film.”
“I tell him to show me the law,” he said. “He then grabbed that camera. After a second of holding on to it, I let it go.”
Then he was handcuffed and arrested.
At no point did he have a physical altercation with Claire Burns, the female security officer, but Trevino swore in the affidavit that Donnelly had assaulted her.
Trevino also states that he was aware that Donnelly had attracted the attention of the security officers because he was videotaping, but then further down in the affidavit, he claims he had no idea what Donnelly was holding in his hand when he had the camera between his knees.
He claimed that he feared it could have been a weapon.
“Since it was unknown to me what the object was, and could have been a weapon which could cause harm to myself or other CSOs or bystanders that were present, Mr. Donnelly was taken to the ground with assistance from Supervisor Deputy U.S. Marshal Bryant Semenza, for security reasons. Donnelly refused continued orders to show his hands, and kept them tightly clenched between his legs.”
Donnelly ended up imprisoned for two days and under house arrest for six weeks. They also confiscated his five guns and his passport. He was also forced to wear an ankle bracelet.
While he was initially charged with assaulting a court security officer, he ended up accepting the plea deal for disobeying a lawful order.
Like Judge Jose L. Fernandez who told me he was “shocked” at my “lack of remorse” for photographing cops in my first trial, Judge Henry Perkin told Donnelly he needed to have “more common sense.”
But Donnelly never broke the law. That is evident in the video. And that should have been evident to Perkin. But Perkin proved to be another judge who acts on his own biases rather than on the actual law.
To read a full account of Donnelly’s experience, check out his blog post.