SARATOGA SPRINGS — Kevin Luibrand, the lawyer for Schenectady School Board member Jamaica Miles, said in City Court Thursday that undercover officers were present during the July 14 Black Lives Matter protest, in an operation called Take Back the Narrative.
Miles was one of 13 people who were later charged with offenses associated with blocking traffic during the protest at a busy intersection during the height of the city’s summer tourism season.
Assistant District Attorney Joseph Frandino said Miles was charged because she is observed during parts of a 9-minute video blocking a car.
On four separate occasions, motorists asked the crowd to allow them through, including a man who said he needed to get medication for his heart condition.
Miles has been charged with unlawful imprisonment and disorderly conduct.
Frandino said he offered to drop the unlawful imprisonment charge if Miles pleads guilty to disorderly conduct, a noncriminal disposition.
Instead, Miles’ lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the case in the interest of justice, arguing Miles is being treated more harshly than Molly Dunn, a white woman who protested that day and was observed on video blocking traffic for the entirety of the video while holding a sign.
Dunn was a defense witness in Miles’ case. Dunn had already accepted the prosecutor’s offer of an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal of the same charges after 30 days. Luibrand had also represented Dunn.
Luibrand described Miles as a person of good character, “a single mom roughing it out with four kids” who has no criminal record and is engaged with her community as co-founder of the activist group All of Us.
Dunn is also an activist in her own right, and she, too, has no criminal record. Yet Luibrand said the prosecutor treated them differently.
“It’s hard to say the difference, but it’s real,” Luibrand told Judge Francine Vero. “Molly’s white. Jamaica’s not.”
The protesters were present to decry comments made by retiring Assistant Police Chief John Catone, who had complained during a June 28 press conference that a recent spate of violence had been caused by gangs from Albany, and that the police department had been damaged by activists who were portraying officers as “racist killers.”
The longtime police official vowed to pull out “every single connection my family has made over the last 130 years, and I will stop your narrative.”
In court, Luibrand asked rhetorically: “How do you protect the narrative? You cut the legs off people that speak.”
Luibrand said the judge couldn’t force the prosecutor to offer Miles an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal.
But Luibrand said Vero could give confidence to the community by affording “the Molly Dunns of the world the same treatment as the Jamaica Miles’ of the world.”
In describing a portion of the video footage, Luibrand said Miles for a time pushed her toddler who was in a stroller.
The lawyer said Miles, who spoke from a bullhorn, wasn’t paying attention to the occupants of a car that protesters had blocked.
She spoke to people across the street at the Adelphi Hotel, among others.
“She’s almost oblivious to there’s even cars there as she moves around,” Luibrand said.
The lawyer contrasted that with “the white girl,” Dunn, who stood in front of the car.
However, the ADA rejected that his offer was motivated by race, saying Luibrand had “wildly neglected” to mention that three white protesters and eight people of color received adjournments in contemplation of dismissal.
The ADA said Miles’ absence of a criminal history, and the fact she’s a hardworking, respected, accomplished member of her community with four children weren’t in dispute.
However, Miles’s part in ignoring the pleas of the motorists couldn’t be ignored, the prosecutor said, while noting that a older gentleman in the video, who was visiting Saratoga Springs from California, was visibly shaken when describing what happened.
Frandino also explained why officers in attendance didn’t immediately arrest the protesters.
Instead, the defendants were summonsed six weeks after the event.
“Rather than sprinting in and disrupting the protest, rather than rush and arrest everyone in the middle of the street and cause even further congestion and potential public safety issues,” Frandino said, “law enforcement purposefully and carefully waited, gathered all the digital evidence that they could [and] identified everyone they could from the videos and later issue warrants.
“Law enforcement’s concern then, and law enforcement’s concern now, remains public safety, and to turn that afternoon into even more of a chaotic event would have endangered the safety of everyone on the street — protesters and onlookers alike,” Frandino said.
The prosecutor asked the judge to imagine if the circumstances were reversed, and it were Miles driving down Broadway and had been stopped in traffic while surrounded by a crowd of people carrying signs and screaming into bullhorns.
“I envision her press conferences on the steps of City Hall to demand that I place this man in jail for as long as possible, as opposed to supporting a full and complete dismissal of the charges against him,” Frandino said.
Frandino said he prosecuted all 13 cases without taking a one-size-fits-all approach.
“All 13 of them received an individual independent analysis by our office to determine their level of culpability,” he said.
Luibrand said no one’s life was changed by what was observed on the video.
Vero said she hoped to prepare a written decision on the request for a dismissal by early next week.
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.