The 10 protesters cited by police last month for blocking traffic on Grand Avenue turned down a plea offer and pleaded not guilty in Laramie Municipal Court on Thursday morning.
They will seek to have the charges thrown out before trial, said Charles Pelkey, a local lawyer who represented all of the protesters at the hearing.
There is an exception for “constitutionally-protected activity” in the disorderly conduct ordinance that the protesters have been charged with violating, and Pelkey plans to argue that protesting should fall within this exception.
The police department had announced in the afternoon of June 25 that they would cite protesters who marched in the street and blocked traffic later that day. Protesters had marched along Grand Avenue most days that month to protest police brutality and killings of unarmed black men. For some of the marches, protesters had marched in the street, blocking traffic.
Police cited and arrested six of the protesters for blocking traffic on June 25, all of whom made bail and were released by the next day. Police cited, but did not arrest, four other protesters, also for blocking traffic.
City officials felt that protesters had endangered their own safety and the safety of others by blocking traffic, so the practice had to stop, Janine Jordan, Laramie’s city manager, said the day after the arrests.
“Both State and municipal laws forbid impeding traffic as doing so creates unsafe conditions for motorists, the public and properties adjacent to the road way,” Jordan wrote in an email Thursday to the Boomerang.
The city had offered the protesters permits to march in the street, in which case walking in the street would have been allowed, Jordan said. She said protest organizers had declined to work with the city to get the permits.
These cases, although about a municipal ordinance, are important, since the people had been cited and arrested while protesting, said Pelkey, who also serves as the Democratic whip in the Wyoming State House.
“This issue is close to our hearts,” he said. “We support the rights of people to protest.”
A scheduling hearing in the case was set for the morning of Aug. 18.
Pelkey filed a motion Wednesday to have all 10 cases joined together, which the city has opposed.
Wyoming law says that multiple defendants can join their cases together, so that their trials are effectively combined, when the charges are for the same incident.
The city argued in a court filing Friday that because the 10 defendants were cited by different officers at different locations along Grand Avenue, and at different times, it would be inappropriate to join the cases.
Dona Playton, the municipal court judge in Laramie, has not ruled on whether the protesters can join their cases.
Separately, the Laramie Police Department confirmed that extra police officers were called in to deal with the protests on June 25 — the day that the protesters were cited and arrested. Laramie police were paid for more than 36 hours of overtime that day, more than any other day that week.
Officers who worked the day shift, which normally runs from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., stayed late on the day of the arrests and on other days when the protesters marched along Grand Avenue, said Gwen Smith, a spokesperson for the Laramie Police Department.
There were also more officers who showed up for their regular shifts the day of the arrests than any other day that workweek for the cover shift, which would normally be on patrol at the time of the protests.
June 25 was the only day that week when all six officers scheduled to work the cover shift, which is the patrol at the time of the protests, were on duty. The days before and after the arrests, three of the scheduled officers were on duty, and others were off shift for training, sickness or vacation.
The police department typically schedules six officers for the cover shift, but only four officers need to be on duty at a minimum, Smith said. When fewer than four of the regularly scheduled officers report for duty, other officers fill in.