CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Five people who were arrested in June while protesting a 20-day jail sentence for a black man using a makeshift flamethrower during a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year have been found guilty of committing traffic violations.
A local lawyer representing the five people told news outlets they were found guilty Thursday in Charlottesville General District Court. They each received a $15 fine.
Defense attorney Jeff Fogel said Keval Bhatt, Sara Tansey, Nic McCarthy-Rivera, Eleanor Myer-Sessoms and James Swanson entered Alford pleas to the misdemeanor charges of stepping in the road. In an Alford plea, the accused does not admit guilt but concedes the prosecution has sufficient evidence to secure a guilty verdict.
Among those arrested in June was Star Peterson. She uses a wheelchair after suffering injuries during the car attack that killed Heather Heyer during the Aug. 12 rally and counter protests. Peterson already has paid the fine.
On June 8, roughly two dozen people protested Corey Long's conviction on a charge of disorderly conduct during the Unite the Right rally. Long testified in court that he lit spray from an aerosol can to create the flamethrower to protect himself.
On Thursday, Tansey read a group statement to the judge saying when a black man is sentenced to jail for defending himself against a mob it is appropriate to protest.
Fogel said the protesters were engaging in free speech. He said the judge agreed but said the First Amendment does not protect protesters from some consequences if they break the law. He said the judge indicated the free speech activity was a mitigating factor in the sentencing.