SANTA FE – A criminal defense attorney said Monday that protesters were acting within their rights when arrested in Santa Fe at a rally against a re-enactment of the return of Spanish conquerors to New Mexico, challenging local law enforcement’s handling of the event.
Eight people arrested by Santa Fe police last week pleaded not guilty Monday in municipal court to charges of criminal trespassing that could carry penalties of 90 day in jail or a $500 fine or both.
One organizer of the protest, Jennifer Marley of San Ildefonso Pueblo, plans to plead not guilty to additional felony charges of battery on a police officer and disorderly conduct, said defense attorney, Dan Cron, who was coordinating a voluntary “strike force” team of attorneys to represent people arrested at Friday’s protests.
“Based on the limited information that we have so far, it appears to me that Jennifer and the other protesters were acting within the protections of first amendment freedom of expression,” said Cron, noting Monday that he had been unable to access and review police accounts of the arrests. “Until we learn more about the specifics of the allegations, it’s not possible to give a definitive read on the constitutionality of what the police did, but initial indications are that the people who were arrested were not acting illegally.”
Most of the arrests on Friday took place as police cleared away protesters from Santa Fe’s downtown plaza at the conclusion of the re-enactment of the 1692 arrival of Spanish conquistador Don Diego de Vargas. In 1680, scattered Indian tribes had united to drive Spanish settlers out.
Activists believe the costumed re-enactment obscures the cruelty de Vargas inflicted on Pueblo Indians as he stamped out resistance to Spanish. Pageantry participants and supporters say they are honoring their Spanish heritage, paying homage to the Roman Catholic faith and highlighting reconciliation with Native Americans.
Cron said a Native American man from the Pala Indian reservation in Southern California, Julian Rodriguez, appears to have been arrested on the plaza as he passed through Santa Fe with his wife, unaware of the protests until they arrived.
Cron said Rodriguez failed to remove a bandanna from his forehead as ordered. A police account of the confrontation was unavailable.
About 80 Santa Fe Police Department officers thronged the city’s downtown streets on Friday, with support from state and Albuquerque police, amid the nonviolent protests. Activist emboldened by the removal of Confederate monuments across the United States warned ahead of time of plans for a loud rally.
While the arrests took place on cordoned-off public streets, police say the area was treated essentially as private property under terms of an event permit from the city, said Greg Gurule, a spokesman for the Santa Fe Police Department.
The scenario has attracted the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU Staff Attorney Kristin Love said Monday the watchdog group has begun collecting information to explore whether constitutional rights were violated.
The de Vargas re-enactment started two hours early without public notice in an effort by organizers and police to avoid confrontations.
Marley was arrested later as she and chanting protesters carrying signs approached a line of police blocking a street.
A written police report asserts that she attempted to enter the permitted area against police orders that protesters stay out.