Drawing of four young black people with fists in air and words Black Pride 4

Jury selection began today in the Franklin County Municipal Court for three of the four members of the #BlackPride4. Judge Ebner asked the defendants if they were aware that they may face jail time if found guilty. She also asked if they were aware of the offers made by the City prosecutors. Both the outgoing and incoming City Attorneys Rick Pfeiffer and Zach Klein have steadfastly refused to drop the charges against the #BlackPride4, or significantly reduce them.

#BlackPride4 members Ashley Braxton, Kendall Denton and Wriply Bennet held equally firm in rejecting the City’s offer to plead guilty and face no jail time.

The #BlackPride4 were arrested June 17, 2017 during the Columbus Pride march after they briefly held a silent vigil to protest the police killing of black people and call attention to violence against the gay and trans community. As they stood silently with others in the street, partially blocking the end of the parade, police moved in and used physical force to make them leave.

Braxton and Bennet were charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest-causing harm to an officer, and failure to comply. Denton was charged only with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The City did amend the one of the charges against Bennet from a First Degree to a Second Degree Misdemeanor.

The fourth member of the #BlackPride4 Deandre Miles is being tried on felony charges in the Commons Pleas Court. He was charged with aggravated robbery -- accused of trying to grab a police officer’s gun.

Just before the proceedings started, there was rally outside the Courthouse. More than two dozen supporters of the #BlackPride4 went inside to watch the jury selection but were asked to leave the Court, not because they were disruptive, but because there weren’t enough seats. In an regular Municipal Court trial there are eight people on a jury, so there are usually 16 potential jurors in the pool. In the #BlackPride4 case, they decided to stand as one and have their attorneys offer a joint defense. Because of their joint defense, potential jurors for all three defendants were in the room, causing all spectators to have to leave, except for two journalists.

The prosecution and defendants’ attorneys each have three unrestricted challenges to any juror. The pool of 50 potential jurors appeared quite diverse with the vast majority of them familiar with the Columbus Pride parade, or having marched in it.

The prosecutor’s main questions to the jury pool were: “Is it necessary to have police at a parade?” “Is it important to have a permit for a parade?” and “Should people be allowed to disrupt proceedings?”

One in ten jurors noted that that had experienced problems with the police. Three of them were white males. Juror #30 informed the Court that because he had complained to an officer that there was a speed trap on High Street, the officer “put his hand on his gun.”

An Asian-American female potential juror said she had been insulted by an officer in the Sandusky area.

But the most forthcoming potential juror, #27, a black male, said that cops treated him badly when he grew up in his neighborhood and admitted bias because “Every time I see a cop, I get scared.”

The Judge indicated that the trial should take between 4-5 days and could begin as soon as Wednesday. The jury selection was still proceeding as we go to press. Only the City prosecutors and the attorney for Ashley Braxton had questioned the jury pool. Attorneys for the other two defendants went on to question the jury pool.