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AIM leader Clyde Bellecourt goes to trial over Christmas Eve arrest

American Indian Movement leader Clyde Bellecourt takes his Christmas Eve misdemeanor trespassing charge to a Hennepin County District Court jury on Monday, claiming he was unfairly targeted at an event because of his criticism of the Minneapolis Police Department.

Bellecourt’s lawyer, Larry Leventhal, said key evidence for the defense will be multiple video recordings of his client sitting down, drinking coffee in the Crystal Court of the IDS Center on Nicollet Mall right before his arrest. Bellecourt was at the IDS to “show support” for a Canadian group’s treaty rights protest, he said.

“The demonstration was over. The drums had ended. The dancers were not dancing. Almost everyone had gone home,” Leventhal said.

On that much, police and Leventhal seem to agree.

A police report indicates Bellecourt was picked up at 12:05 p.m. on Christmas Eve on allegations of disorderly conduct and trespassing. He was booked into the jail and released within a few hours.

Leventhal said the 77-year-old activist was literally drinking coffee when he was arrested and at no point refused to leave the premises. A complaint against him said he was repeatedly told to leave or face arrest.

“Everybody had a right to be there because it was an orderly demonstration,” Leventhal said.

According to the complaint, Bellecourt said he told a police officer that he was “shopping” and not part of the protest. The complaint, however, said he was handing out papers to and shaking hands with the protesters.

When other officers arrived, most of the protesters “began to leave, but the defendant remained in and around the Crystal Court,” the complaint said. Police told Bellecourt “ten times” that he would be arrested if he didn’t leave. He sat down on a bench and police told him three more times of his impending arrest, the complaint said.

Bellecourt pulled away from police at that point, grabbed one officer and then went limp, eventually going to the floor and passively resisting arrest. The officers called an ambulance, Bellecourt was loaded onto a stretcher and taken to jail.

At the time, a police spokesman said Bellecourt was asked to leave and was the only one in the group who didn’t.

Bellecourt was among the founders in 1969 of the Minneapolis-based American Indian Movement (AIM) and is a veteran of protests and arrests.

Judge Todd Barnette is scheduled to hear the case beginning at 9 a.m. Monday. Leventhal said he will request that a 12-member jury hear the matter.

A misdemeanor is punishable by no more than 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.


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