Jan. 7, 2003 – The teacher arrested during a demonstration held at the swearing-in of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull on St. Thomas appeared in court on Tuesday to face charges of aggravated assault and battery. But the advice-of-rights hearing for Yvonne Freeman was postponed until Thursday because a key witness for the government was unavailable because of duties related to the three-day inaugural celebrations.
The witness is Kenneth Gittens, Police Department deputy director of security, who is pictured grabbing Freeman by the blouse as another police officer secures her by the arm in a photograph published Monday by the Source.
Freeman, a teacher at Joseph Gomez Elementary School, was arrested Monday morning after a scuffle broke out between protesters and police as the swearing-in ceremonies got under way at Emancipation Garden on St. Thomas. Members of American Federation of Teachers Local 1825 and other individuals were protesting the 24th Legislature's approval of whopping salary increases for the governor, lieutenant governor and senators.
Freeman's 69-year-old husband, Harry, was in Territorial Court with his wife, showing a smile and a half-inch scar on his head. He, too, had been taken into custody on Monday — after being clubbed repeatedly by a nightstick-wielding officer, drawing blood, when he rushed to the aid of his wife — but was released without being charged.
"I'm a hard-headed old man," he said Tuesday.
Police Officer Cirra Turpin appeared at the hearing, telling Judge Brenda Hollar that she arrested Yvonne Freeman after she saw the teacher grab Gittens by his necktie in the midst of a fight between Freeman and three police officers.
Hollar granted a request by Assistant Attorney General Brenda Scales to reschedule the hearing for Thursday, when the inaugural ceremonies are over. However, the judge warned Scales that any arguments presented by the government should not impinge on the defendant's right to peaceful protest.
"The evidence is there, your honor. We just want an opportunity to present it," Scales said.
Hollar rejected a motion by attorney Pedro Williams, representing the Freeman family, to drop the charges. Williams said the government had failed to show that his client had committed a crime.
Afterwards, Williams said he was encouraged by Hollar's warning to prosecutors. "I think the judge is indicating to the prosecution that any citizen of the United States has the right to assemble freely, so I think the judge was indicating to them that the defendant has a right to assemble freely and voice her opinion," he said.
Also in court were the teachers union local president, Vernelle de Lagarde, and other union members. De Lagarde noted that in recent years teachers have appeared in many public protests, including an 18-day strike in 2000, and that some of the police who guarded the picket lines at that time also were on duty at Monday's occasion. "They indicated they had been out there on the picket line with us for 18 days, and we've never had a confrontation," she said.
Some union members at the hearing said they were not deterred by Monday's events and felt the altercation and its aftermath might spur others in the community to support future protests and actions against the controversial raises.
Petitions opposing the raises are circulating in the community, de Lagarde said, the AFT has a meeting on the matter scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at Palms Court Harborview Hotel on St. Thomas, where another meeting on the issue was taking place Tuesday night.
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