As U.S. troops were fighting their way through Iraq, a Cincinnati peace activist this week has been fighting for his right to protest the war.
Brian Crum, also known as Brian Garry, is on trial for assault on a police horse and obstructing official business. But the charges are false, according to Crum. His real offense, he says, was challenging authority.
"They don't like people challenging or questioning their authority or questioning their right or righteousness in their decision-making progress," he says. "They like to have absolute authority with no questions asked -- and I questioned them."
Arrested Oct. 7, 2002, after President Bush visited Cincinnati to deliver a war speech at Union Terminal, Crum's case points to changes in the nation's political mood, according to attorney Kenneth Lawson.
"Over the last year, starting with 9/11, our country has been in a different state of mind," Lawson told Hamilton County Municipal Judge Timothy Black. "Emotions have run high in our country -- pro-war, anti-war."
Crum says he is innocent of the charges against him. He said he believes police were angry because the protest was a success.
"I participated in that and it pissed them off because they didn't know what to do with us," he says. "They couldn't handle us. They weren't prepared."
The 'punch' becomes an elbow
In the complaint filed after his arrest, police claimed Crum twice "punched" Cody, a police horse.
But Officer Elena Moton, who was riding Cody that night, testified Crum elbowed the horse.
"We were trying to push the crowd back and that's when Brian Crum was standing in front of my horse and he struck the horse twice," Moton said. "You actually heard the contact with the horse's muzzle."
Crum was part of a group Moton ordered to back up, but he didn't comply with the order, she said.
Sgt. Matthew Cornacchione testified that several times he ordered Crum to keep moving back, but instead he kept standing between the horses police were using to control the crowd.
Crum elbowed Cody with enough force to "cause Cody's head to lurch up," according to Cornacchione. He said the horse was struck in the muzzle and jaw.
Moton said she had to take action so the horse wouldn't slide back after being elbowed.
"He's very head-shy," she said.
The horse is shy because it had been struck before, according to Cornacchione.
Moton said that, for safety reasons, she didn't check the horse's condition until later. She waited because a large number of protesters were around the horse, she said.
Crum was one of the main agitators in the crowd, beating a drum throughout the protest, according to Sgt. Michael Fern.
"Brian was in a grassy area where pedestrians were restricted," he said. "We had problems with Brian all night long."
But Fern said he never saw Crum strike the horse.
Officers claimed Crum refused to walk after being arrested and had to be carried by police. That's why he was charged with obstructing official business.
But Crum says he didn't refuse to walk; a horse had stepped on his foot.
"He did state he was stepped on by a horse," Specialist Mark Burns testified.
Police Specialist Frank McGraw also testified he heard Crum say a horse stepped on him.
According to Burns, Crum was asked if he needed medical attention but he said no. Burns testified that Crum had no trouble getting into the police van after being told to do so.
Burns said officers had to force Crum's hands behind his back in order to handcuff him. But McGraw's testimony made the arrest sound less challenging.
"I put the handcuffs on him," McGraw said. "I just put his arms behind his back and placed him in custody."
Crum kept telling officers it was his right to protest, according to Fern.
'They wanted us out'
The trial began April 9 after being repeatedly postponed during the past several months. Minor interruptions slowed the trial once it started.
During Moton's testimony, the trial was stalled as Lawson and prosecutors tried to get a VCR to play a videotape of the protest.
"We've had four people with doctorate degrees in law trying to work the VCR," Judge Black said.
While Cornacchione testified, the prosecution asked for a recess because of a heated conversation in the hall between Crum's brother and police officers.
But Black proceeded with the trial.
"I can assure you I'm not going to step out there and separate them," he said.
Before testimony started on the second day of his trial, Crum showed pictures of himself with horses he cares for.
He's no stranger to horses -- or to political activism. Crum has protested against the U.S. Department of Energy's uranium mill in Fernald, former President Reagan's visit to Cincinnati, the closing of Huntington Meadows, the globalization of corporate power and the deaths of two unarmed men at the hands of Cincinnati Police officers.
"Brian has been protesting peacefully for years," Lawson told the court.
Crum vehemently denies that he punched the police horse. He says he believes in nonviolent passive resistance, following the lead of Gandhi, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus.
"I'm a follower of Rev. Maurice McCrackin, who was so intensely nonviolent that he didn't react when they went up and down the back of his legs with a cattle prod, when they broke his finger," Crum says.
The area that protesters were standing in last October contained no signs forbidding pedestrians, but police ordered them to leave.
"Suddenly they wanted us out," he says.
He says the charge of punching a police horse flabbergasted him.
"It's not about me punching a police horse," Crum says. "It's about them trying to take away my civil liberties. They're just chronic liars. They're some lying-ass cops and Ken Lawson, my attorney, has been busting them down left and right. They're my best witnesses, because they're so screwed up they can't even get their own stories straight."
The trial was scheduled to resume April 15. ©