Protesters Clash Outside Courthouse

Christopher Peak PhotoA year after cops arrested them at an anti-Trump protest, two activists still didn’t get the “speedy” justice they were seeking in court Friday — but they did get mixed up in another clash that almost led to more protester arrests.

That all occurred Friday both inside and outside the state Superior Court building on Elm Street.

Norman Clement, 67, a veteran political organizer, and Nathan Blair, 27, a dreadlocked barista active in nonviolent protest movements, showed up in court hoping the state’s attorney would finally dismiss the charges pending against them dating from a controversial arrest by state cops a full year ago. Refusing to take plea deals, they’ve returned over and over again to court for rescheduled or postponed pretrial proceedings.

They sought Friday at least to secure a trial date, where they could present their case to a jury.

Neither of those outcomes happened. Prosecutors did offer a deal, saying the defendants could plead out to creating a public disturbance, an infraction that carries only a $35 fine and five hours of community service. Clement and Blair — who maintain their innocence and argue that they were victims of trumped-up charges and police misconduct — turned that option down. (Click here to read a full story about Blair’s case.)

But while both defendants were considering the plea bargain inside 121 Elm St.’s marble atrium, a true public disturbance was taking place on the courthouse steps outside.

Two counter-protestors from Hartford with experience creating fake Facebook accounts had shown up to troll Clement, waving anti-Clement signs with slogans like ““Rapists for Norm.” Supporters of Clement and Blair were on hand, too. A clash ensued, ending with a young woman sprawled on the ground and a sign crumpled in the trash, and a counter-protestor handcuffed by police.

The charges against Clement and Blair date back to a protest on Feb. 4, 2017, when nearly 200 demonstrators without a permit swarmed Route 34 in opposition to Trump’s executive orders about a travel ban for seven Muslim countries and a wall on the Mexican border. Clement, carrying a bullhorn, directed the crowd, which blocked traffic on a state road to the hospital.

After the march turned back toward the Green, local police said Blair wouldn’t move out of the roadway and took him down. Clement, through his megaphone, asked why Blair had been arrested. State cops chased him and pepper-sprayed him several times and set a police dog on him — a dog who ended up biting local police instead. Clement later went to the hospital for shoulder injuries.

Clement was charged with four misdemeanors and an infraction: incitement of a riot, interference with arrest, breach of peace, disorderly conduct and negligent use of the highway by a pedestrian. Blair was charged with one misdemeanor: disorderly conduct. Eyewitness critics called it a “police riot”; police officials called for better future communication between state and city cops and better intelligence gathering to prevent unforeseen demonstrations from getting out of control.

Before their 15th appearance on the court’s docket Friday, Clement and Blair held a press conference and rally on the courthouse steps asking for a speedy resolution to their cases.

“We are asking people in New Haven to stand with us to make a demand that all charges against these peaceful protesters who did absolutely nothing wrong be dropped,” one speaker, IV, told the crowd of about 15 people. “We need to send a clear message to state police and New Haven police —  any police in the state —  that we will not tolerate abuses against our elders. We will not tolerate abuses against young black men. And we will absolutely not tolerate police impinging on our right to gather peacefully to protest.”

Clement said he believes the state is drawing out the case because it fears a federal lawsuit for police brutality. (No civil case has been filed, Clement stressed.) He said a state police internal review of the handling of the protest and his arrest — which cleared state cops of violating procedures but called for extra training to handle these situations better — was “full of lies” and was contradicted by video evidence. (Click here to read a story about the state police report.)

That’s when two counter-protestors rolled up.

Stephen Schafer and Michael Picard, two libertarians who travel across the Northeast trolling groups that they say limit free speech, marched back and forth on the sidewalk, carrying yellow signs. One said, “Rapists for Norm.” The other said, “No to Pineapple Pizza,” a non-sequitur referencing an Internet debate about whether Hawaiian pizza is good.

A handful of Clement’s supporters descended the courthouse steps and tried to block out the counter-protesters’ signs. Schafer tried to juke them out, running around them in circles and yelling.

Clement knew the two trolls. He said they’d tried to hack his Facebook; both denied this allegation. But Schafer later admitted to the Independent that he did create a fake Facebook account for one of Clement’s close friends, another anti-fascist organizer. Clement said members of the alt-right harassed the person by phone over the two weeks it took to get the sham profile taken down.

“I might get in trouble again today,” Clement said, before he handed the mic over to Jesus Morales Sanchez, an organizer for Unidad Latina en Acción.

That’s when one of Clement’s supporters hit the ground. Schafer said they’d tried to grab his sign, and he tugged back. Multiple witnesses said Schafer pushed her. He claimed that the supporter was faking it, “like in basketball, when they flop to get the free-throw point.”

Three police officers tried to separate the groups. The cops told the trolls to remain peaceful; they told Clement’s supporters that they hadn’t witnessed an assault.

One of Clement’s supporters then ripped the sign out of Schafer’s hands for good. She ran up the steps and dumped it in the trash. Police gave her a verbal warning, while they took a complaint from the protestor who’d hit the ground.

The police then put Schafer in handcuffs, detaining him but not actually arresting him. They said they’d need to arrest the offenders from both camps to go ahead with formal charges, according to both sides.

Schafer and Picard later explained that they try to provoke groups of all ideologies. They’ve made scenes with left-wing antifa and right-wing Trumpkins. Last May, they showed up at a Trump rally in New London, wearing traditional Middle Eastern garb and carrying a sign that read, “Let Terrorists In.” They dragged the American flag on the ground, despite a Navy veteran saying it bothered him. An elderly biker pushed Schafer over.

“We’re not alt-right trolls,” Schafer said. “We’re just trolls.”

“We support our cause vigorously,” Picard said. “The one commonality at both ends of the political spectrum is that they want to suppress the other side.”

A few years ago, Picard had stood in front of a drunk-driving checkpoint in Hartford with a sign that said, “Cops Ahead” with a swastika over one letter. State police confiscated his phone. While it was still recording, the troopers said, “Gotta cover our ass,” as they talked about falsifying the report to stick extra charges on him. The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut is now suing the state police on Picard’s behalf.

Given that both sides had negative interactions with state troopers, why were these two out-of-towners there to antagonize, rather than stand with the defendants?

“They only support their own speech,” Schafer said. “They only want to hear themselves speaking. They were happy when we were arrested.”

Schafer did concede that his “Rapists for Norm” sign was in bad taste. “It wasn’t as funny as I thought it’d be,” he said. “The pineapple pizza sign was better.” Was he saying he made a mistake? Schafer paused. “I apologize,” he told the Independent. “I’m sorry.”

In a statement Friday afternoon, the ANSWER Coalition, which organized the rally for Clement, said, “We denounce these cowardly attempts to interrupt and shut down events in support of our community. We will not be intimidated and will continue to do this work, and stand by anyone who comes out to support it.”

Clement and Blair, meanwhile, went through security, getting away from the commotion outside. Clement said he’d been afraid to organize any recent protests because he didn’t know if the cops would target him again. “I can’t be out doing what I do, what I have been doing for years” Clement said. “We could be out on the streets every day, the way things are going.”

But he also didn’t want more charges showing up on his record.

The existing ones had been bad enough, he went on. Clement said he’d lost gigs as a painter because of his many court dates, and he’d been barred from driving for Lyft because of the pending case.

Clement wanted a “clean slate” before he started being a vocal activist again, but he didn’t know when he’d get that.

“I don’t want to wait another year with this hanging over my head,” Clement said. “I didn’t think it would be, but I’m tired of it: coming back, rehashing everything in my mind, taking off work.”

After a deal came down from the state’s attorney’s office, Clement and Blair talked it over with their lawyer. They decided not to take it, saying they’d rather fight the charges. Their lawyer told the judge that his clients needed more time.

Paul Garlinghouse, the defense attorney, said he understood where Clement and Blair were coming from. He’d just seen a production of “The Crucible” the night before, and he heard John Proctor’s cries echo in his clients’ defiance. “How may I live without my name?” the character says in refusing to participate in the witch trials.

To move the case forward, Garlinghouse could technically cite the Constitutional guarantee of a “speedy trial.” According to state law, anyone who pleads not guilty can ask a judge to fast-track a trial if one hasn’t already started within a year of the arrest. But the expedited trial happens rapidly, giving lawyers only 30 days to prepare — a little too quickly to develop a solid case, Garlinghouse said.

In the meantime, Garlinghouse said he’s looking at other legal options. Clement and Blair are due back in court on Mar. 9.


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posted by: alphabravocharlie on February 23, 2018  6:12pm

There’s nothing peaceful about blocking traffic and endangering people’s lives, especially on a limited access highway. Sounds like Norm and his supporters got a taste of their own medicine. Too bad they can’t control themselves.

posted by: ChrisNHV on February 23, 2018  9:05pm

There are a number of things in this lengthy article that should be corrected.

Norm and Nate were there to attend their court date. They didn’t go inside to get away from the commotion - the Norman I know will always defend people. They went inside to stand in front of a judge for the 15th time against these bogus charges.

This is the first time Norman has been offered a deal. To us, that shows the prosecutors know they don’t have a case. This easily could have gone to trial a year ago if the state thought it had any evidence. And though the article states the alleged crimes as facts, nothing has been proven in a court. Eyewitness video and testimony as well as the New Haven Independent’s own stories from a year ago show there was no ambulance, for example.

The reality is that a press conference was attacked by two people known to be provocateurs, and the police - once again - reacted entirely incorrectly.

posted by: RealML on February 23, 2018  9:38pm

When someone is facing charges in this country I still that they are innocent until proven guilty. To State allegations as fact in this article is wrong. Somewhat is stated here has actually been disputed by your own newspaper in a previous article. For instance the fact that there was a suppose it ambulance blocked on the highway. Paul Bass contacted AMR and wrote an article stating that the dispatcher said there was no such ambulance. Secondly there is no such record of a civil suit being filed so that’s another falsehood. The fact that a deal was made to drop all but one charge seems to indicate that the state does not have much of a case.

posted by: 1644 on February 24, 2018  12:14am

Well, I love pineapple pizza, so I can see how some folks would be moved to violence by criticism of it.  Seriously, good job trolls for standing up for free speech and against the violent, racist “anti-facists” who endorse criminality and criminal violence. Those who want a “clean” slate should not commit crimes.  Blocking traffic, in streets or sidewalks, is a crime, so don’t do if if you don’t want a criminal record.

posted by: RealML on February 24, 2018  8:02am

These trolls like pizza but also apparently are admitted rapists according to their signs. I think the fact that they knocked a women to the ground shows how they feel about women and people’s rights. MLK blocked many of roadways and bridges, civil disobedience in order to be heard is justified.

posted by: 1644 on February 24, 2018  9:16am

Real: MLK made every effort to get permits for his marches.  When local and state authorities denied him, he went to federal court.  The states’ were using many of the same arguments against allowing King to march as left-wing states do today to ban right-wing rallies:  while the right wing rallies may not be violent, those opposing them will be.  Unlike King, there is no evidence that Clement ever tried to get a permit for his march.

posted by: 1644 on February 24, 2018  9:32am

Real:  Would it be different had they knocked a man to the ground?  Do you feel women are inherently weaker than men and in greater need of protection?  When women are passing the Army Ranger quals and wanting to be Navy SEALs, and even joining the Whiffenpoofs, should view them as fragile creations in need of special treatment?

posted by: LookOut on February 24, 2018  9:46am

Very interesting.  Great to see the normal protesters get challenged.  They seem to feel strongly about free speech until that free speech doesn’t align with their thinking.  Hope these trolls show up more often (and learn that maybe using rape is a poor choice).

posted by: JohnDVelleca on February 24, 2018  9:56am

Trolls??  These are not the type of Trolls I know, or at least the type my 6 year old daughter has introduced me too.  The Trolls I know are happy and love to dance and give hugs.  These people are more like Bergens.  I hope the editor makes the correction, Princess Poppy will be very disappointed in this portrayal.  Let’s all lighten up a bit and stop attacking each other over every little thing at every opportunity….

posted by: MarcoHaven on February 24, 2018  11:24am

Dimwits vs. Dimwits

posted by: Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist on February 24, 2018  5:00pm

Yesterday we all showed up to support Norm and Nate like we have numerous times over the last year.  This time we were there to ask for the DA to drop the all the charges in a much more deliberate fashion.  We support Norm and Nate because the arrests were not only brutal but were also uncalled for.  There is never a reason for the state police, without permission or coordination with city police to intervene on city streets.  There is never a reason for the city or state police to physically assault non-violent and peaceful protesters.  The judicial system has colluded with the police and continues to brutalize Norm and Nate by not producing evidence in a timely manner even though it was requested months ago and making these community leaders appear in court over a dozen times in one year.  This is why the DA and the police can’t be trusted.  As abolitionists, these are the very reasons we don’t need the police or the courts.  As we peacefully assembled under the watchful eye of very poorly trained and apathetic NHPD two erratically behaving individuals started to disrupt our press conference.  These two individuals frequently shouted profanities, ran into, pushed, raised their arms attempting to hit us (See picture in the article).  Ultimately their behavior was ignored by the poorly trained and apathetic NHPD until one of those men knocked over one of our friends.  The NHPD negotiated a deal with the perpetrator to allow him to press charges against our friend (the one who was purposely knocked over) if our friend was going to press charges.  Despite there being many eyewitnesses to the battery the NHPD acted inappropriately and threatened a victim with the false choice of press charges and be arrested instead of doing their duty to protect and serve.  This is why the NHPD must be abolished. The once handcuffed and detained assaultists was released and allowed to return to the press conference and continued on inside the courthouse to harass his victim.

posted by: 1644 on February 24, 2018  9:26pm

ARAF:  So, is is wrong to disrupt people’s speeches?  To batter people?  To just generally be jerks and put your own agenda above other people’s?  I had thought the Anti-facists, at a minimum, were dedicated to disrupting speeches, rallies, and assaulting people, as happened when the Lost Boys came to the Green, or at UConn.  In other cases, they engage in outright riots, as in Hamburg.  As far as marching around and disrupting your demonstration, and generally being jerks, wasn’t that what Clement was doing when he and his group blocked traffic and clogged the streets and sidewalks, depriving others of their use?  Seems to me you think it’s okay for you guys to be obnoxious, but get upset when given a very mild dose of your own behavior.

posted by: JCFremont on February 26, 2018  9:34am

Looking at the first photo I’m reminded of the late 1970’s comedic parodies of protests after the Vietnam war ended and student protest organizers and hold over hippie’s hadn’t found a central theme to protest. “No Pineapple Pizza!? Sure I’m against, in fact I’m against this whole Gourmet Pizza and Craft Brews! When was Pizza and a Beer ever suppose to be anything other than a cheap meal Down with the gentrification of a blue collar meal! Are you with me 3/5ths?

posted by: 1644 on February 26, 2018  1:03pm

JC: You’re position on pizza and beer is deeply offensive.
1.  Just because pizza and beer were working class when they first appeared in this country is no reason that they should remain so.  Upward mobility is the hallmark of American society.  Rather than being critical, we should celebrate the fact that some pizza and beer has broken free of its downscale origins to become “gourmet”, craft, and accepted by the bourgeoisie. 
2.  While you may not like it, pineapple pizza has been with us for at least 30 years, living amongst us, on the menus of most pizza places.  I cannot understand why you are bothered by its existence.  Perhaps it just seems queer to you, and you don’t like queer things.  So, to you, I say, “It’s here, get used to it.” 
3. Let us celebrate the our diversity of pizza and beer, and let each partake of the pizza and beer of his own choosing. Cheers.

posted by: 1644 on February 26, 2018  4:51pm

“your” vice “you’re”.  Sorry.

posted by: Perspective on February 27, 2018  11:34am

“One of Clement’s supporters then ripped the sign out of Schafer’s hands for good. She ran up the steps and dumped it in the trash. Police gave her a verbal warning, while they took a complaint from the protestor who’d hit the ground.”

Isn’t it ironic the group protesting and demonstrating for the rights of others is compelled to infringe on the rights of others and destroy their private property when it doesn’t align with their ideologies.

posted by: JCFremont on February 27, 2018  6:52pm

@1644 offensive? hey I get it, probably the after effects of my iritation when the East Rock er Goatville Pizza shop I used to get 2 slices and a Foxon Park for about 5 bucks turned into a $12 for a cheese mini pie its only an improvement if it tastes better and is at least as filling more about the value not about the pineapple. Same thing happened when Amato’s on State Street closed.

posted by: 1644 on February 27, 2018  10:49pm

JC:  Well I actually had a pineapple pizza tonight, about $20 for a large.  Honestly, it wasn’t;t very good, but that was to do with the crust, not so much the topping. In days past, I got $1 slices from Broadway Pizza, but they are gone now. “The old order changeth, yielding place to new, And God fulfils himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”
BTW,  if I like pinapple pizza, am a an undercover Anti-fa? I hope not, but the Anti-fa sure didn’t like the guy saying no to pineapple pizza.