The Desecration Menace
Possibly becoming a regular series here at TCR. Please send in any similar reports you come across. The latest entry:
Two friends arrested for their war protest on a DuPage County highway overpass are facing more criminal charges.Since reading this last week, I've been thinking about putting an upside-down flag in my window and trying out some Dolchstossed-up armchair warrior. But on the Upper West Side, it would probably just get me some unwanted cocktail party invitations.
Prosecutors added two new misdemeanors Monday to the original disorderly conduct charge after a further review of the allegations.
Sarah Hartfield, 45, of Naperville and her co-defendant, Jeff Zurawski, 39, of Downers Grove also are charged with reckless conduct and unauthorized display of a sign on a highway.
The two rode their bikes May 6 to a pedestrian bridge that spans I-355 near Glen Ellyn and unfurled a banner that read: “Impeach Bush and Cheney — liars.” They also displayed an upside-down American flag.
Weeks later, sheriff’s deputies pursued charges against the protesters, alleging they tossed unknown objects from the overpass, causing motorists to swerve. Prosecutors said a truck driver complained and is prepared to testify if needed.
The protesters deny throwing anything and allege they are being prosecuted for political reasons. Their Naperville attorney, Shawn Collins, is demanding a jury decide the case.
“The county doesn’t like the political opinions of Jeff and Sarah and others who believe as they do,” Collins said. “So, it has brought these charges, and now added to them, to send a message that DuPage County won’t tolerate people who want to express points of view that county officers don’t like.
“It is a tragedy that the county has chosen to exercise its power in this way.”
DuPage State’s Attorney Joseph Birkett said he is all for free speech, but not when the law is broken and the public is put at risk. He acknowledged receiving several letters criticizing the charges.
“Everyone has a right to express themselves, as long as it doesn’t potentially threaten the welfare of the public,” Birkett said.
Hartfield and Zurawski said they displayed their sign and upside-down flag for about 90 minutes without incident when a state police trooper approached them. The trooper never mentioned anything about falling debris, they said, but did politely advise them that the protest could cause an accident.
As they packed up, Hartfield and Zurawski said sheriff’s deputies arrived and began questioning them. They said one of the three deputies was particularly agitated and promised a prosecution.
The protesters were arrested weeks later. They are due back in court July 30. If convicted, they face fines and up to one year behind bars. Neither has a criminal history.