A Lowell District Court jury today acquitted a Spring & Spring client who was charged with assaulting a group of protesters who were walking on a picket line during a work stoppage. Attorney Chris Spring tried the case.
The defendant works as an independent truck driver. In August of 2015, Market Basket employees were on strike to protest the ouster of a popular board member. The strike had been ongoing for about six weeks and the employees were walking the picket line every day outside of the Market Basket warehouse in Tewksbury. On August 15th, the defendant drove his truck to the warehouse to pick up an order. When he arrived, he was heckled by the picketers and allegedly made several menacing gestures toward them. A short time later, he attempted to leave the parking lot. As he approached the exit, the picketers were continuing to block the entrance. They were screaming and swearing at the defendant. The defendant parked and exited his truck. He had a large hammer in his hand and began walking toward the picketers. The police quickly tackled the defendant and placed him under arrest. He was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon and disorderly conduct. The entire incident was captured on video.
The trial began yesterday and the Commonwealth called six witnesses. Three police officers testified that they were part of the team that was providing security at the warehouse. More than 20 officers were necessary to patrol the warehouse each day to enforce a peaceful protest. One of the officers testified that the defendant was aggressive and resisted efforts to place him into custody, but that claim was refuted by the other officers and the videotape evidence.
After the officers were finished testifying, three Market Basket employees testified. They told the jury that they were walking the picket line when the defendant got out of his truck with the hammer. Two of the three witnesses said they were scared that the defendant was going to attack them. They told inconsistent stories about the character of the picket line, with one of the witnesses insisting that the picket line was friendly and peaceful. The videotape of the incident showed the picketers screaming obscenities at the defendant as he was parked in his truck and as he was later being placed into custody.
Attorney Spring argued that the picketers created the hostile environment and the defendant did nothing to contribute to the chaos. The jury ultimately agreed, finding the defendant not guilty of both charges.
It is sometimes a huge advantage to criminal defendants when videotape evidence exists of their arrest, and this is one of those cases. Compared to the outrageous conduct of the picketers, the defendant looked calm and serene. If there had been no video, the jury may very well have accepted the witnesses’ description of the incident and the defendant would have been convicted. With nearly everyone now owning a smart phone, alleged crimes and arrests are frequently videotaped. Hopefully video evidence will reduce instances of police officers and civilian witnesses lying in court in an effort to convict innocent defendants.