Safe Haven Member Back in City Court

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ON WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, Jesse
Masengale returned to city court for
two tickets issued to him by Champaign
police this summer. A member of
the Safe Haven community, Jesse was
present when Champaign police
showed up on June 8 to videotape the
“tent city” that had been set up on the property of the
Catholic Worker House. He was subsequently given two
tickets for obstructing and assaulting a police officer.
A Champaign city attorney has offered Jesse a plea bargain,
a tacit acknowledgement that at least half of these
charges are bogus. The assault charge will be dropped if
he pleads guilty to the obstructing charge and agrees to
three months of court supervision and 100 hours of community
service.
Witnesses say that Jesse had tossed his cell phone to a
friend to take pictures when the police began to detain him.
This was interpreted by police as an attempt to hit officer
Gregory Manzana in the head—assault with a cell phone.
The second charge of obstructing justice was for Jesse’s
trying to stop police from videotaping.
Jesse said he could accept the plea bargain, but that it
“doesn’t make it right.” He plans to seek advice from his
attorney Bob Kirchner, after obtaining the video and police
reports, on how to move forward.
Another continuance was granted and the next court
date is: October 14 at 9:45 AM in Courtroom L.
[See a full account of the incident on June 8 and a
statement from Safe Haven at: ucimc.org/content/
cu-tent-community]
POSTSCRIPT: ANOTHER DAY AT
THE COURTHOUSE
Every visit to the courthouse, I am always surprised by the
sheer brutality and callousness of the criminal justice system.
Also in city court the day of Jesse’s hearing were four
inmates from the Champaign County jail. When they were
brought into the courtroom, they were dressed in striped
orange jumpsuits and wore shackles on their wrists and
ankles. As they entered and exited, they shuffled their feet
back and forth, unable to take full steps. All four were
African American. The image of a chain gang could not
help but be evoked.
One of them, a 50 year-old woman, had spent five days
in jail because she missed a court date. She initially had
received a ticket for throwing trash into someone else’s
dumpster. She tried to explain that her husband had a
stroke and she could not make the court date. She began
crying. Her husband was with her brother while she was
in jail and she was concerned for his health. Judge Holly
Clemons interrupted her and proceeded with routine
affairs, taking a moment to read instructions to others who
were in city court that day.
When the judge returned to the case, the woman again
tried to inform her of the situation. The Judge curtly said,
“Not now.” Indeed, maybe Judge Holly Clemons hears
these stories every day. But this is the scenario that judges
are faced with given a bloated criminal justice system that
locks up its citizens for the most frivolous offenses.
Eventually, the woman pleaded guilty to charges of littering
and obstructing justice. When police showed up to
serve a warrant for the missed court date, she apparently
had given a wrong name and was written a second ticket.
The woman wanted to contest this charge, but said she
would “just let it go.” She was ordered to pay a combined
$360 in fines, plus court costs. The woman did not have
$150 to bail out of jail on a $1,500 bond. Perhaps taxpayers
will have to pay the cost of jailing her again because
she cannot afford the fines.
Again, the criminal justice system is one of the few
remaining social service agencies left to deal with poverty,
although its methods are the most inhumane and irrational.

About Brian Dolinar

Brian Dolinar has been a community journalist since 2004.

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