PHOENIX – Five human-rights activists who made national headlines when they disrupted a protest at the Fourth Avenue Jail last summer went on trial Friday.
The group chained themselves to the doors of the sallyport, the controlled entrance to the jail, as they protested Senate Bill 1070, Arizona’s controversial illegal immigration law. Their actions disrupted the day-to-day activities of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
This happened on July 29, 2010, the same day SB 1070 officially went into effect and tens of thousands of people took to the streets to in protest. Most of those marches took place in downtown Phoenix, but one group decided to go to the jail. Hundreds gathered outside.
Six activists -- Vanessa Bustos, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, Ernesto Lopez, Ruben Lucio, Peter Marroquin and Ana Rodriguez -- originally made a human chain, but then handcuffed themselves to the sallyport doors. They said they were willing to give up their freedom to protect the freedom of an illegal immigrant who might be racially profiled.
Their goal was to stop raids that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio had announced, calling the proposed operation unlawful.
"[W]e decided to give up our freedom in order to have on less family separated," said Frederick-Gray in a news release. "[W]e decided to give up our freedom so one more parent could come home to their children."
Lopez said they were doing their part to "stop Arpaio and his terrorizing of our communities."
While SB 1070 is now law, many of the more controversial provisions are on hold pending court decisions.
While all six activists participated in the protest, only five were charged. According to Carlos Garcia of Puente Arizona, Ruben Lucio was not charged. The reason for that is not clear.
Bustos, Frederick-Gray, Lopez, Marroquin and Rodriguez all faced two separate charges -- one of obstructing a public thoroughfare and another of disobeying an order from a police officer. The obstruction charge was dropped last week.
The disobeying charge is a misdemeanor. If convicted, the activists could each face up to six months behind bars.
In a news conference held before going into to the courtroom, the activists said they were hoping the case would be thrown out on a technicality. They say they were wrongly processed in the jail.