Report from Today’s Phoenix Trial of UUA Pres. Rev. Peter Morales
Report from Sandy Weir
AZ Immigration Ministry Organizer
UUA President Rev. Peter Morales, Salvador Reza of Puente Arizona, and four others [one in absentia] stood trial today [Friday, July 29, 2011] for their actions of non-violent civil disobedience protesting the Arizona law known as SB 1070 one year ago today. The trial is in recess until 8:15 a.m. Monday, August 1.
The defendants in today’s trial stood in protest near the north entrance to the Maricopa County Madison Street Jail. Other groups of protesters, who had formed human chains at the same jail entrance, were tried in June and earlier in July. Their trials were completed but no verdicts had been announced. At the beginning of the day today Judge David Seyer provided an update on those trials. Judge Seyer indicated that he had reached verdicts for seven of the ten defendants and that he would announce those verdicts at the end of the current trial.
The bulk of today’s trial comprised testimony by three witnesses for the prosecution: a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant and two sheriff’s deputies. As all defendants were charged with failure to obey a lawful order to disperse, the questioning focused upon the clarity and timing of the multiple orders to disperse and the defendants’ responses to them.
The prosecution rested at 4:20 p.m. A decision was made to take testimony of two defendants who reside outside of Arizona, Rev. Peter Morales and Sarah Dougherty, so that they could avoid the hardship of returning to court on Monday.
Rev. Morales testified that he came to Arizona upon the invitation of the AZ UU congregations and ongoing partners Puente and NDLON, who work on behalf of immigration reform and against the mistreatment of immigrants. Rev. Morales stated that when he arrived in Phoenix he did not plan to be part of the protest at the jail, but two occurrences the evening of July 28 changed his mind. First he found out about the partial injunction against the implementation of SB 1070. Then he immediately heard that despite the injunction, Sheriff Joe Arpaio had issued a statement that he would engage in sweeps of immigrant neighborhoods on July 29, which Rev. Morales believed to be potential illegal acts by the sheriff.
Rev. Morales decided to stand at the jail location in solidarity with Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray of the UU Congregation of Phoenix and with Puente Arizona lead organizer Salvador Reza, as a result of conversations with them. Morales stated that he had a moral obligation to stand against the sheriff in order to delay the sheriff’s intended actions and to engage in public witness, bringing national attention to the immigration issues. Rev. Morales likened the action to the actions of those who gave shelter to runaway slaves in the 1850s. He stated: I thought it was probable that I was breaking the law, but I did not have any special knowledge of whether it was a lawful order to disperse. He stated that he believed and hoped that he was successful in delaying the sheriff’s actions. Defense attorney Sean Larkin concluded by stating that Morales’ defense is a necessity defense.
Ms. Dougherty began to stand near the jail door holding a banner protesting SB 1070 after the first wave of arrests was completed and during a lull when there were no police officers near that door. She was given one, immediate order to disperse before being arrested. She stated that she wished to continue holding the banner and was trying to coordinate a move to a location that would not block the jail door but was arrested before she could do so.
The trial will resume at 8:15 a.m. Monday.