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Local activist cleared of Philadelphia RNC charges 

Darby Landy is standing at a piano, playing a slow-tempo and serene melody. It's a semi-sunny Saturday, and the soft-spoken 24-year-old is about to explain why today finds him "ecstatic and relieved." A long-time Triangle resident, Landy has just returned from one of his many trips to Philadelphia. Had things gone differently for him there, he could have been on his way to prison in Pennsylvania instead of tickling the ivories in Carrboro.

But now he's free and clear. On April 6, a Philadelphia criminal court judge acquitted Landy and two co-defendants of charges stemming from the protests during the 2000 Republican National Convention. The ruling was the final chapter of a protracted legal saga: The so-called "Timoney 3"--a reference to then-Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney--were the last of 420 people arrested during the convention to go to trial. In the end, none of the activists arrested in the broad police sweeps during the convention was sentenced to prison; most had their charges reduced or thrown out, or paid small fines.

"Of the 420 people that got arrested, I was actually the last one out," Landy says. He was in jail for 17 days because of both the severity of the charges against him and his unusually high bail, which was set at $500,000. (Landy's family paid 10 percent of that sum to secure his release. Because of the recent acquittal, the $50,000 should be returned soon.) The authorities had charged Landy and his co-defendants, Camilo Viveiros and Eric Steinberg, with an identical list of crimes that included seven felonies and 19 misdemeanors.

The charges were filed after a melee between police and protesters in downtown Philadelphia on Aug. 1, 2000, the day when most of the arrests were made. Commissioner Timoney, who was patrolling the city on a bicycle, and a few police officers said they tried to break up a crowd that was attempting to flip over a car, and that in the process, several protestors assaulted Timoney and the officers, using bicycles as battering rams and projectiles. Landy, the police alleged, had tried to pick up a police bike and briefly engaged in a tug-of-war with Timoney before relinquishing the bike.

Ever since, Landy has been embroiled in what he calls "an absolutely Byzantine process by which we beat the charges in various courts, one after another." By the time his trial finally rolled around last week, only one felony count remained.

And even that charge couldn't stick, the judge ruled at the end of the two-day trial, because the police testimony was contradictory on several key points and Timoney and his officers could not consistently identify which protestors they had scrapped with. Video footage shot at the scene of the arrests further discredited the police account. The footage showed two officers forcing Viveiros to the ground before one of them punched him in the back, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which also reported that "the video showed [Landy] briefly grabbing a police bicycle before running away."

After three years and eight months of uncertainty, "when that [acquittal] ruling came down, it was amazing," Landy says. "Every step of the way, the state did all that they could to imprison us and make us an example of what happens to anyone that would contest the system as it is, and ultimately they were unsuccessful at that. It felt like a vindication of everything we'd been through together."

Timoney, for his part, is now facing a new controversy in Miami, where he is currently police chief. Last November, his department headed the city's security efforts during protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit. As with the Philadelphia protests, critics say, the Miami crackdown was characterized by excessive use of force, police intimidation and arbitrary arrests. On March 25, the National Lawyer's Guild and a group called Miami Activist Defense filled a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging that Timoney and other city officials used mass arrests to squelch activities protected by the First Amendment.

Of course, neither the acquittal of the "Timoney 3" nor the new legal challenge to Timoney's protest-policing model will necessarily temper law enforcement abuses during upcoming political protests, of which there will be many in this heated election year. Despite his extended legal bought with Timoney, Landy's advice for activists heading to contest this year's Republication National Convention in New York City is surprisingly succinct: "Don't be afraid. Don't be intimidated."

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