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Picketers want charges dropped against war protesters
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

Protesters rally Thursday outside the DuPage County government complex in Wheaton in support of two anti-war activists who were arrested last May.

 

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Published: 10/11/2007 6:07 PM | Updated: 10/12/2007 12:11 AM

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The legal debate that arose after two anti-war activists were arrested in DuPage County spilled into the street Thursday when protesters called on prosecutors to drop the charges.

About two dozen sign-toting protesters rallied outside the county government complex along County Farm Road in Wheaton.

They argue the activists are being wrongly prosecuted and beseeched DuPage State's Attorney Joseph Birkett to dismiss the misdemeanor case.

Sarah Hartfield, of Naperville, and her friend, Jeff Zurawski, of Downers Grove, were accused of disorderly conduct after a May 6 demonstration along a highway overpass.

The two rode their bikes to a pedestrian bridge that spans I-355 near Glen Ellyn and unfurled a banner that read: "Impeach Bush and Cheney -- liars." They also displayed an upside-down American flag.

Weeks later, sheriff's deputies pursued criminal charges after they said a passing trucker complained. Initially, prosecutors accused them of tossing something onto the roadway, causing motorists to swerve, and illegally displaying a sign on a highway. Earlier this week, though, they dropped both allegations but persisted with a disorderly conduct charge for making a throwing "motion" toward motorists.

The protesters deny pretending to or actually throwing anything and allege they are being prosecuted because of their political beliefs. Their arrests sparked a letter-writing campaign, petition drives, Internet forum debate and Thursday's protest. Zurawski said he's heard from folks as far away as Australia, Britain, China, Ireland and the U.K.

"Sarah and I demonstrated on the bridge peacefully and within our constitutional rights," he said while picketing. "We are not backing down."

State's Attorney Joseph Birkett has said he is all for free speech, but not when the law is broken and the public is put at risk. The truck driver is prepared to testify if it goes to trial. The case is due in court again Monday, before DuPage Associate Judge Ronald Sutter.

Protesters from groups such as DuPage Against War Now (DAWN) and the DuPage Peace Through Justice Coalition took part in Thursday's demonstration.

If convicted, Hartfield and Zurawski face fines and up to one year behind bars. Neither has a criminal history.

"This is truly a gross misuse of the power of the county and taxpayers' money," said their attorney, Shawn Collins. "They did nothing wrong, and the fact that they (the prosecution) keep changing their story tells you how desperate the county is to nail Jeff and Sarah with something -- anything at all."