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Citing inconsistencies, a judge exonerates Providence activist Camilo Viveiros for his arrest during the 2000 Republican National Convention

PHILADELPHIA — IN A DRAMATIC victory for critics of the status quo, a Pennsylvania judge this week acquitted Providence activist Camilo Viveiros of charges that he had assaulted former police commissioner John Timoney and another officer during the 2000 Republican National Convention. Two codefendants — known, with Viveiros, as the "Timoney Three" — were also acquitted.

Viveiros, 34, who says he plans to attend demonstrations at this summer’s Republican National Convention in New York City, reacted to Wednesday’s decision by Judge William Mazzola of the Court of Common Pleas by saying, "I feel great. I feel like Timoney left Philadelphia top cop, and he came back a flop."

In announcing his verdict, Mazzola stated, "I have no doubt it was a very difficult atmosphere for the police. I have no doubt Officer [Raymond] Felder was injured. I have no doubt Commissioner Timoney was knocked down. The only thing I have a doubt about is the persons who did this, so I acquit them."

After being tried on three felony charges and four misdemeanors, Viveiros, 34, faced a potential penalty of more than 37 years in jail and $55,000 in fines. He testified that as events turned contentious during an evening march at the Republican convention in August 2000, he tried to leave, but was arrested, pushed facedown on the sidewalk, and punched by officer Clyde Frasier. Later, he was charged with throwing a bicycle at Timoney and Felder.

Two Philadelphia police officers testified on Monday, April 5, that they saw Viveiros throw the bicycle at Timoney and Felder. The officers’ testimony, however, was marred by inconsistencies. On Tuesday, the testimony of Timoney, who is now Miami’s police chief, added more contradictions. Amateur video footage of the arrests and testimony from Viveiros and co-defendant Eric Steinberg of Philadelphia then directly contradicted parts of police testimony.

Viveiros, Steinberg, and Darby Landy of Raleigh, North Carolina, are the last of 420 people arrested during the 2000 Republican convention to go on trial. None of the defendants have received jail time since the vast majority of charges have been thrown out or reduced, according to R2K Legal Collective spokesman Kris Hermes. The low conviction rate, he says, demonstrates that police used their powers to disrupt protests, not arrest lawbreakers.

Numerous fundraisers have been held around the country to help Viveiros, a Fall River native who works as an organizer for the Massachusetts Alliance for HUD Tenants. Perhaps the most ambitious was a recent five-week tour of three puppeteers led by Mary Hastings of Providence. The group performed "Terrible Tales of Timoney," at 26 East Coast colleges, churches, bookstores, and coffee shops, Hasting explains, to show how Timoney "is making a career of criminalizing protesters."

After Timoney used aggressive tactics on protesters at the November 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting in Miami, Amnesty International called for an investigation of the Miami police, and the AFL-CIO called for the former New York City officer’s resignation.

After the first day of testimony in the two-day trial, however, the prosecution case appeared strong.

Three police officers testified that around 8 p.m. on August 1, 2000, a bicycle patrol of Timoney, Frasier, and Felder arrived at a Philadelphia intersection and saw about 10 people, in a crowd of 75 to 100 demonstrators, trying to turn over a parked car. Frasier testified that he rammed his bike into those around the car and grabbed two of them, one with each hand. Other protesters tried to pull the two free, he testified, and then out of the corner of his eye, he saw Steinberg coming toward him, holding a bicycle at chest level.

Quickly, Frasier testified, he released the person he was holding with his right hand, and punched Steinberg in the chest, knocking him to the ground. Timoney and Felder then jumped on Steinberg to arrest him. While they were kneeling on the ground handcuffing him, Frasier testified, Viveiros picked up a police bicycle, ran over, and threw it, hitting Timoney and Felder. Frasier then released the protester in his left hand and went after Viveiros, he said, catching him as he tried to dodge past on the narrow street. Then, Frasier testified, officer John Dietz arrived to assist in the arrest.

Frasier indicated he had no doubt that Viveiros was the culprit, testifying under cross-examination, "Was that him? Yes. Did he hit them with the bike? Yes."

Felder testified that he suffered a concussion when the bike struck him on the back of the head, just below his bicycle helmet, requiring a two-day stay in the hospital and a five-week absence from work. He did not see who hit him, Felder testified, but in one of several inconsistencies, added that he was hit with one bicycle, while Timoney was hit with a second. Under cross-examination, he also testified that the three officers had been working 15 consecutive hours at the time of the incident.

Dietz, who arrived by bike after the melee began, told a slightly different tale. He too testified that he saw Viveiros throw the bike at Timoney and Felder from behind, but stated that the officers were standing, not kneeling on the street with Steinberg. Dietz also said he grabbed Viveiros from the front, while Frasier caught up from behind. Both Dietz and Frasier testified that Viveiros resisted arrest while he was on the ground by kicking and punching. Both also testified that they watched Viveiros for the entire time between when he threw the bicycle and his arrest.

During the trial’s second day, Timoney added a third version of events in which he described corralling Viveiros. Timoney did not mention Viveiros during his direct testimony. But when Viveiros’s lawyer, Robert Levant, confronted Timoney with his testimony at a 2000 preliminary hearing — which came days after the arrest — Timoney related that he did not see who threw the bike. The former Philadelphia chief added that while on the ground immediately afterwards, he grabbed a nearby leg that turned out to be one of Viveiros’s. In a 2000 interview with the Phoenix, Timoney told a similar story, saying that when he grabbed Viveiros’s heal, he said to himself "This son of a bitch is going nowhere."

Viveiros told yet another story. After attending a protest at Philadelphia City Hall against the death penalty and the criminal-justice system, Viveiros said, he joined a spontaneous march of several hundred people. But the march quickly turned ugly, he testified, as protesters heard the police were coming. When some protesters threw flowerpots, Dumpsters, and newspaper boxes into the street. Viveiros says, he decided to leave and headed down a street. Dietz then grabbed him from behind and was quickly joined by Frasier. Although he said he was peaceful at all times during his arrest, Viveiros testified that Dietz and Frasier forced him to the ground, and Frasier punched him in the side. Finally, Viveiros testified, he did not see anyone throw a bicycle at Timoney and Felder.

Next, a video of the melee played by Levant clearly shows Dietz and Frasier, not Timoney, walking on the sidewalk with a cooperative Viveiros. Then, Viveiros is pushed to the ground and punched by Frasier. At no time during the video does Viveiros resist arrest.

Steinberg, a 22-year-old University of the Arts student at the time of the protest, testified that he took August 1 off from work to ride around the city on his cherished 1977 Raleigh track bicycle, and watch the protests with friends who were bicycle messengers. Standing on the curb at Lattimer and 17th streets holding his bicycle, he stated that he decided to leave as police arrived to arrest the people rocking the car, and he saw a bike thrown from the center of the crowd strike Timoney and Felder.

Jogging along the street with his bike on the ground, he testified, he made eye contact with Frasier, just as a young man wriggled out of the officer’s grasp by dropping his backpack. Frasier then punched him in the mouth, Steinberg testified, and ran off, leaving him to be handcuffed by Felder. As he was waiting to be transported, Steinberg continued, another officer pulled his wallet from his pocket and threw it as far as he could. Later, when he asked officers to loosen his handcuffs, he testified, police tightened them, causing him to lose all feelings in his hands. It took a month and a half, he stated, to regain feeling in his thumbs. His bail was set at $450,000.

Speaking of his experience immediately after the trial Steinberg said, "It definitely gives me a better perspective on what it means to be a protester in the US."

Landy, 24, did not testify. The video showed him briefly grabbing a police bicycle before running away. Timoney and officer Joseph Hansbury testified that he had engaged in a tug of war with Timoney over the bicycle before dropping it. But Landy’s lawyer, Jack MacMahon, argued that police inconsistencies in the Steinberg and Viveiros cases made their version of Landy’s actions unbelievable. "When you start with a lie, when you start with a fabrication," he told Mazzola, "problems are legion."

Reacting to the three acquittals, Danielle Redden, a representative of the R2K Legal Collective, said, "This always has been the [official story] that’s been put out there — These were the violent people; These were the exceptions; These were the people who were out to wreak havoc on the city. And they were acquitted — that really says something."

Issue Date: April 9 - 15, 2004
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