NATO terrorism defendants kept in ‘observation’ cells

One of their lawyers says the jail conditions amount to ‘sensory deprivation’ intended to hamper the defense.

May 22, 2012

(AP/Chicago Police Department)
From left: Brent Betterly, Jared Chase and Brian Church.
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A spokesman for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says three anti-NATO protesters accused of planning terrorist actions have been held around-the-clock since Saturday in white-walled “observation” cells, where they are isolated from each other and the rest of the inmate population and kept from writing materials, books and all other media.

“It’s for their own safety and the safety of the [jail] staff and other inmates,” the spokesman, Frank Bilecki, said Tuesday afternoon. “Obviously we’re concerned about their mental status and well-being.”

A medical staff member checks on the three every 15 minutes, Bilecki said. The cells each have one window through which natural light passes and a larger window for the observation, he added.

Gary Hickerson, acting executive director of the office’s Department of Corrections, ordered the observation because the defendants are young and because their charges are serious, Bilecki said. The decision had nothing to do with defendants’ behavior since arrest, he added.

The sheriff’s spokesman says the State’s Attorney’s office had no input into the protesters’ jail conditions.

But a lawyer for one of the alleged terrorists says the conditions amount to “sensory deprivation” intended to hamper their defense. “This is a way to break someone’s spirit and break their ability to cooperate with their attorneys,” said the lawyer, Michael Deutsch, who represents Brian Church, 20, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Deutsch complained about the conditions in a court hearing about the case Tuesday afternoon. Defense attorneys said they were “negotiating” with jail staff members to improve the conditions.

Those talks may be paying off. Bilecki said the jail was planning to move the three protesters Tuesday evening into the general inmate population.

Church and the other protesters — Jared Chase, 27, of Keene, N.H; and Brent Betterly, 24, of Oakland Park, Fla. — face charges of terrorism conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and possession of explosives or incendiary devices. Cook County Judge Edward S. Harmening on Saturday set their bonds at $1.5 million each.

Authorities accused the trio of possessing Molotov cocktails and planning or proposing attacks on targets including President Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home. The three were among nine people arrested during a police raid last Wednesday at the South Side apartment of some Occupy Chicago leaders who helped organize protests against the NATO summit.

Church, Chase and Betterly appeared at Tuesday’s hearing in tan jail uniforms but did not speak. Judge Adam D. Bourgeois Jr. granted a request by prosecutors to continue the case until June 12.

At least two other anti-NATO protesters arrested last week face serious felony charges. Sebastian Senakiewicz, 24, of Chicago is charged with falsely making a terrorist threat. Mark Neiweem, 28, of Chicago is charged with solicitation for explosives or incendiary devices. A judge on Sunday set their bonds at $750,000 and $500,000, respectively.

Senakiewicz and Neiweem are scheduled for a status hearing Wednesday.