A jail cell in the Onondaga County jail. (Courtesy of the sheriff's office)

Editorial: Sentence against Ithaca drones protester is a farce and an outrage

Editor's Note: This is an editorial by The Ithaca Voice. We are enabling the site's comments section at the bottom of the story for those who wish to respond.

Ithaca, N.Y. — An Ithaca woman crossed the street and stood for a few minutes where she wasn’t supposed to stand. Then she crossed back to where it was OK to stand. Now she’s going to jail for a year.

(For background on the case, see yesterday's story, "Criminal or martyr? Inside the political formation of Ithaca's jailed grandmother.")

There are plenty of reasons to deplore the excessive jail sentence that DeWitt Town Justice David S. Gideon handed down last week to Mary Anne Grady Flores, a 58-year-old grandmother of three.

Here are seven of them:

1 — Why the max? The judge won’t say

The probation department had recommended no jail time. Gideon instead threw the book at Grady Flores: a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

Why? The judge declined to be interviewed. But in his five-page ruling, he wrote, “It is the opinion of this Court that this defendant would simply thumb her nose at the law once again if the Court would sentence her to either a Conditional Discharge or Probation…”

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 2.33.31 AM

Mary Anne Grady Flores being led away in handcuffs last week.

OK, but that’s a case maybe for a week or a month in jail. Or maybe two. Wouldn’t that send a message? Why a year, which might disrupt any number of lives in untold ways? All for crossing the street for a few minutes.

2 — Platitudes, pieties and some just plain weird stuff

The judge’s ruling includes numerous odd phrasings and a few hyperbolic clauses like this: “Publicity at any cost, without any regard for the rules of society.”

Really? “At any cost”? “Without any regard”?

She went to photograph a peaceful protest. She was not even a demonstrator.

There's simply no evidence to justify the claim that Grady Flores sought "publicity at any cost."

A jail cell in the Onondaga County jail. (Courtesy of the sheriff's office)

A jail cell in the Onondaga County jail. (Courtesy of the sheriff's office)

3 — An introduction to U.S. civics

The judge seems intrigued to learn that “it was disclosed that ‘planning’ sessions are held prior to the demonstrations whereat the risk of arrest is discussed and the participants are grouped according to who is willing to be arrested versus those who are not.”

Welcome to the world of civil disobedience, judge. It’s an American tradition that goes back at least to Henry David Thoreau in 1849. Actually, it could probably be argued that the Revolution itself was a major act of civil disobedience.

Thoreau spent only one night in jail for refusing to pay taxes to support slavery and a war he believed was unconscionable.

Grady Flores crossed the street for a few minutes, then crossed back. Now she’s going to jail for a year.

Thoreau wrote an essay you might want to check out, judge: http://thoreau.eserver.org/civil1.html.

It’s a glorious part of the fabric of our history.

4 — Yes. Violence is, in fact, worse than non-violence

The judge at one point actually writes, “Is a wilful (sic) violation of a valid Court Order any less serious because it does not involve violence?”

Well, actually, Your Honor, yes, it is. You slapped Grady Flores with second-degree criminal contempt for violating an order of protection. That’s a misdemeanor. If she had been accused of violent behavior, it would likely have been a first-degree criminal contempt charge, a felony. A felony is more serious than a misdemeanor. Is an armed robbery more serious than a burglary? The law seems to say so.

Judge David Gideon. (Courtesy of the NY State courts system)

Judge David Gideon. (Courtesy of the NY State courts system)

In this case, there was no violence. Would the judge really have found the case no more serious had Grady Flores used weapons to fire on the base? So an assault on the colonel would have been no more serious in the eyes of the law than standing in a driveway?

Yeah, we didn't think that made sense, either.

5 — Trouble keeping time?

“She walked over to where the protesters were and stood there for minutes,” the prosecutor for Onondaga County said. “It wasn’t like a two-second thing: It was minutes and minutes and minutes of time where she stood with these people.”

Minutes and minutes and minutes. Sounds like a bad Rent parody.

Think about all the minutes Grady Flores is losing: 525,600. That, more than what the prosecutor says, can really be characterized as "minutes and minutes and minutes."

6 — A perverse order of protection

Grady Flores was arrested because she violated an order of protection. An order that was absurd on its face. Why? Because it forbade her to approach the workplace or home of someone she hadn't met, didn’t know, didn’t threaten and didn’t show any intention of harming in any way. And who was the commander of possibly the most powerful military force in New York.

Town of DeWitt justices issued the orders of protection against her and a number of other protesters at the request of base commanders to remove an inconvenient and pesky presence at the entrances to the Hancock Air Base outside of Syracuse.

Orders of protection usually pop up in the news in circumstance such as, “Woman stabbed man; he violated order of protection.”

Col. Earl A. Evans in 2011. Evans requested the order of protection that eventually lead to Grady Flores' jail sentence. (Courtesy of the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base)

Col. Earl A. Evans in 2011. Evans requested the order of protection that eventually lead to Grady Flores' jail sentence. (Courtesy of the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base)

They're intended to protect specific people from harm inflicted or threatened by specific people.

In this case, there was no threat, there was no “victim.” It was a generic political protest.

The order of protection was a gross misuse of a serious legal instrument.

Need further convincing?

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled unanimously that it was unconstitutional to place a buffer between abortion clinic entrances and protesters.

“A painted line on the sidewalk is easy to enforce, but the prime objective of the First Amendment is not efficiency,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in a majority opinion that was joined by the court’s four-member liberal wing, according to The New York Times.

An order of protection against drone protesters is just another way to paint that line on the sidewalk. And it is a subterfuge — because it’s basically dishonest.

The base commander’s name may be on the order of protection, but he hasn’t actually met or been threatened by any of the protestors. They’re just clogging his base entrances. Are they trespassing? Conducting themselves in a disorderly way? Those are different matters from the reasons for an order of protection. Yet that’s what Grady Flores had to answer to. For crossing the street for a few minutes, then crossing back.

7 — Penny wise, pound foolish

The judge levied a $1,000 fine on Grady Flores, plus a surcharge of a couple hundred dollars, plus the cost of a DNA test. He said he wanted to send a message.

So, he tossed her into the clink at Jamesville Correctional Facility for a year — at up to $40,000 in annual cost to taxpayers.

A good bargain? For someone who crossed the street for a few minutes, then crossed back?

Taxpayers could use an order of protection against justices like David Gideon.

Correction: Due to an editing error, the following caption incorrectly stated that Grady Flores will be spending 12 months at the justice center jail. In fact, she is there now, but has been sentenced to 12 months at the jail in Jamesville.

The Onondaga County Justice Center jail.

Mary Anne Grady Flores is being held in the Onondaga County Justice Center jail.