Four protesters arrested outside a Chicago Minuteman meeting in Arlington Heights last October pleaded guilty to battery Tuesday, but before leaving the courthouse some denied they did anything wrong.
"We believe what we did was right," said Cynthia L. Gomez. "Anyone with a conscience . . . should oppose an armed vigilante group."
Jury selection was scheduled to start for the trial of four people arrested Oct. 15 outside the Christian Liberty Academy where a meeting of the Chicago Minuteman was taking place. And, there were reporters there would be demonstrations outside the Rolling Meadows courthouse.
Instead, the prosecutors and defense attorneys negotiated a plea agreement in which the state dismissed charges of resisting arrest in exchange for pleas of guilty to battery by "insulting/provoking contact with a police officer without legal justification" from the defendants, Gomez, 28; Rehana F. Khan, 24; Kara K. Norlander, 24; and Eric W. Zenke, 18.
A bond forfeiture warrant has been issued for a fifth defendant, Marco A. Quiroz-Rojas, 30, who was not in Rolling Meadows court Tuesday, nor did he appear for the case's initial court date in December.
Hundreds of people Oct. 15 were protesting against the Chicago Minuteman Project, an anti-illegal immigration organization, when some of them, police authorities said, linked arms to block the main entrance of the academy.
"We told them to get out of the way," said Arlington Heights Police Capt. Jerry Lambert. "As soon as we tried to move people out, they started swinging."
The police then called for reinforcements, and more than 100 officers from regional and state agencies arrived. The people arrested were either part of the chain or tried to stop police from arresting those who were, police authorities said.
Outside of court Tuesday, Gomez said those charges were "false and invented."
But both sides interpreted the outcome of the case the same, each claiming victory.
"We will not serve one day in jail," said Gomez. "We did nothing wrong."
All four were sentenced to one year of court supervision, 240 hours of community service and to pay court costs of $230.
Norlander and her attorney, Jed Stone, called the plea and sentence "an important victory."
Norlander noted the prosecutor "had to drop the resisting arrest" charges and the public attention their arrests received helped "educate people" about the Minuteman Project, "a racist, vigilante group spreading around the country."
Stone called Gomez, Norlander, Khan and Zenke "four courageous Americans who stood up and said 'no' to the Minutemen," which he described as "the new Ku Klux Klan."
"They came into our community with a history of lawlessness, a history of racism and a history of anti-immigration that is un-American and unwelcome in our community."
The Minuteman Project Website describes the group as a "citizens' vigilance operation monitoring immigration, business and government." The group has no affiliation with "separatists, racists or supremacy groups or individuals," the Website states.
Arlington Heights authorities said the people attending the Minutemen meeting did not cause any problems.
"They stayed inside the building," Lambert said. "The ironic part is (the protesters) hid behind their First Amendment rights to interfere with someone else practicing their First Amendment rights."
Lambert said he was satisfied with the court action.
"There was an admission in open court that they did indeed batter police officers, which is against the law. It's no longer an allegation," Lambert said. "We were protecting the rights of both parties to speak their peace. We are confident we did not act outside of our procedures and if it occurred again we would take the same action."
Associate Judge Hyman Riebman said, "I suspect the defendants also dealt with what they perceived to be a very difficult situation. As hardworking . . . and as decent as these defendants are, those First Amendment rights cannot be used to violate other laws in the state of Illinois. Emotions sometimes cause things to get out of hand and that is what happened here."
Riebman also advised, "My courtroom and any courtroom in Cook County is not a forum for politics or a forum for any person's agenda."