Safe Haven Tent Community Goes to Court

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A CROWD OF APPROXIMATELY
20 people showed up
in city court on July 28,
2009 to watch the proceedings
in a case against
Jesse Masengale, a member
of the Safe Haven
Tent Community. After a group of homeless
men and women had organized a tent
city on the property of the Catholic Worker
House in Champaign, two police officers
arrived on the night of June 8 with a video
camera to “investigate.” When Jesse questioned
their intentions, he was detained
and given two city tickets.
In court, Judge Richard Klaus read a summary
of the two charges against Jesse:
obstructing and resisting Champaign Police
Officer Erik Bloom from “documenting evidence,”
when he put his hands in front of a
video camera after he was told not to; and
assault for allegedly throwing a cell phone at
Champaign Police Officer Gregory Manzana.
According to witnesses on the night of
June 8, when officers Bloom and Manzana
approached with a video camera, Jesse and
two residential volunteers from the
Catholic Worker House spoke to them.
One of the volunteers told officers that the
Catholic Worker House did not consent to
a video search of the property. Officer
Bloom quickly became disrespectful and
said that he had been given permission to
be there. This is when Jesse stepped in to
block the videotaping.
As Jesse was being detained, witnesses
say he tossed his cell phone to one of the
volunteers to document the officers who
were beginning to get rough with him. The
claim by police is that Jesse intentionally
threw the cell phone at officer Manzana,
thus constituting an assault.
Jesse asked the judge for a continuance
until after the results of a grievance he has
filed with the City of Champaign, but he
would not allow it. The city attorney
expressed her intentions to prosecute the
case and Jesse pleaded not guilty.
Jesse was given another court date for
September 2, 9 a.m. in Courtroom L.
Jesse does not have the option of a public
defender. He faces up to $1,000 in fines
and possible jail time if he cannot pay
them. It is clear that the local authorities
would rather jail members of the homeless
community at $45 a night, than provide
them with adequate housing.
The city had the option of dropping the
charges, but continues to waste taxpayer
money on this frivolous case. Of course,
these charges are not only against Jesse, but
represent a prosecution of the entire Safe
Haven Tent Community for trying to find a
solution to the growing problem of homelessness
in Champaign.
Contact Champaign City Attorney Fred
Stavins and tell him to drop all charges
against Jesse Masengale (#09OV000914).
Phone: 217/403-8765
Fax: 217/403-8755
Or, legaldepartment@ci.champaign.il.us
An article by the Safe Haven Tent Community
and an incident report of what
happened on June 8 can be found in the
June/July issue of the Public i or at the IMC
website:
ucimc.org/content/cu-tent-community
Jesse Massengale’s next court appearance
will be September 2, 9 a.m. in
Courtroom L.

About Brian Dolinar

Brian Dolinar has been a community journalist since 2004.

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