Attorney: Arrest of protesters an ‘overreaction’

November 15, 2016 GMT

Santa Fe police targeted leaders of a downtown protest against President-elect Donald Trump for arrest, according to attorneys for three people charged after the demonstration Saturday.

The three arrested protesters — Sergio Muterperl, 30, Travis Barnes, 20, and Morgan Cook, 18, all of Santa Fe — pleaded not guilty at arraignments Monday before Magistrate Donna Bevacqua-Young.

Police spokesman Greg Gurulé said the three men were the only demonstrators arrested in connection with the protest. Gurulé said police cited a Santa Fe woman, Kathryn Sipowicz, for indecent exposure “after flashing the crowd with her breasts while riding on the top of” a sport utility vehicle.

Demonstrators who attended the rally — one of several anti-Trump demonstrations across the nation Saturday — said about 300 to 400 joined the impromptu march.

Muterperl faces misdemeanor charges of pedestrian on roadway and resisting arrest, as well as a fourth-degree felony charge of battery on a police officer. Barnes is charged with the misdemeanor offenses of assault on a police officer, pedestrian on roadway, resisting arrest and possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. Cook faces misdemeanor charges of pedestrian on roadway and resisting arrest.

After the arraignments, Jeffrey Haas, an attorney for Barnes and Cook, told reporters that police overreacted.

“It just seemed like selective prosecution because … who gets prosecuted for walking in the street when there’s a sidewalk?” Haas said. “Three hundred people were walking in the street. Why did they only go after the leaders. So we think police did an overreaction here to what may have been a minor traffic disturbance and it led to much more serious confrontation and charges.”

Gurulé, the police spokesman, said in an email that, “Our concern was keeping the people on the street and the people driving in their cars safe. The people were a hazard to drivers and themselves by walking on the street.”

Mariel Nanasi, an attorney for Muterperl, said the demonstration was peaceful. Police, she said, saw Muterperl after the demonstration and said, “Let’s get him!”

Nanasi, executive director of the Santa Fe nonprofit New Energy Economy, said she attended the rally and offered to represent Murterperl.

Muterperl faces up to 18 months in prison if convicted on the felony charge of battery on a police officer.

A police report says Muterperl led the demonstration by walking in the middle of Lincoln Avenue. When approached by police after the demonstration, Muterperl fled and Officer Alejandro Arroyochased him up a staircase in the Santa Fe Arcade at 60 E. San Francisco St., according to the report.

Muterperl “forcibly pulled away” from Arroyo on the staircase, causing both of them to fall down the nine-step staircase, the report says.

In a brief appearance at Muterperl’s arraignment, Arroyo told the judge he hurt his shoulder “pretty good” and will get more tests.

A prosecutor at the arraignment said that there’s an unrelated grand jury investigation of Muterperl for attempted criminal sexual penetration of a minor.

Police in June charged Muterperl with criminal sexual penetration of a child under 13 and two misdemeanors for child enticement after two Atalaya Elementary School students said they were molested by a teaching assistant. An attorney for Muterperl said his client looked forward to defending himself, but the case was dismissed Oct. 18, according to online records.

Nanasi said the prosecutor’s mention of a pending grand jury investigation of Muterperl was “highly unusual and prejudicial” and that there’s no evidence of an investigation. The attorney also said Muterperl has no convictions.

Nanasi said Muterperl worked four years at Santa Fe Public Schools but now has a job elsewhere.

Douglas Couleur, an attorney representing Muterperl in the case involving the students, said the investigation continues.

Bevacqua-Young set a $2,500 cash or surety bond for Muterperl, allowing him to pay $250 to a bail bond company for release from jail.

Haas questioned during the arraignment whether Barnes assaulted a police officer.

“According to the police report, he fell against the knee of officer Varela and that’s the basis for the assault charge,” Haas told the judge.

The officer, Santa Fe Police Sgt. Cipriano Varela, did not appear at the hearing.

“While Sergeant Varela was escorting Barnes out of the [plaza arcade] store, Barnes fell to the ground, refusing to walk,” the police report says. “When Barnes fell to the ground, Barnes fell against Sergeant Varela’s knee, causing pain and discomfort,” which caused Varela to seek medical attention.

Contact Justin Horwath at 505-986-3017 or jhorwath@sfnewmexican.com.