American Indian activist's trial ends with hung jury

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 17, 2013 - 8:39 PM

Clyde Bellecourt’s misdemeanor trespassing case could be tried again, though; it could be scheduled for retrial.

The weeklong trespassing trial of American Indian Movement leader Clyde Bellecourt ended Tuesday when a deadlocked jury could not reach a verdict.

After deliberations that began Friday afternoon, the six-member jury announced several times that it was unable to unanimously agree of a verdict on the misdemeanor trespassing count stemming from Bellecourt’s Christmas Eve arrest at the IDS Center’s Crystal Court. After asking the jury three times to return to deliberations, Judge James Moore declared the mistrial shortly after noon.

The case is set to be scheduled for a retrial. Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal did not respond to a request for comment on whether her office would reprosecute Bellecourt.

“I would think the city should dismiss the charges, as there’s absolutely nothing to be gained by prosecuting Mr. Bellecourt once again but to further harass him,” said Bellecourt’s attorney, Larry Leventhal.

Bellecourt, 77, was at the IDS the day of his arrest to show support for a Canadian group’s treaty rights demonstration and to hand out fliers. He testified that he refused a demand by police to disperse the group because he wasn’t involved in the protest. He then went upstairs to get a cup of coffee and a roll at Starbucks. By the time he returned downstairs, the demonstration was over.

Bellecourt sat on a bench and was drinking coffee when police again approached him and told him to leave. He said he would leave as soon as he finished his coffee. Ordered again to leave, Bellecourt claimed he got up and was arrested. The encounter was caught on video, which was referenced by the prosecution and the defense during trial to bolster their arguments.

According to charges against him, Bellecourt was told “10 times” that he would be arrested if he didn’t leave. He sat down on a bench, and police told him three more times of his impending arrest. Bellecourt pulled away from police at that point, grabbed one officer and then went limp, eventually going to the floor and passively resisting arrest. The officers called an ambulance. Bellecourt was loaded on a stretcher and taken to jail.

Bellecourt, who was among the founders in 1969 of the Minneapolis-based American Indian Movement, is a veteran of protests and arrests. During the trial, Leventhal touted his client’s experience in the community, as well as his unfavorable reputation with police, as a reason he was targeted.

Assistant Minneapolis City Attorney Clair Cole countered during closing arguments Friday that regardless of Bellecourt’s reputation and service to the community, he broke the law.

“In fact, he’s a very good man; in fact, he’s probably a great man,” Cole said. “What happened does not diminish his character in any way.”

Bellecourt said he’s glad he turned down an offer to lower the charge to a petty misdemeanor “because I didn’t do anything wrong and I wanted to show that they overreacted. If someone else were singing Christmas carols in there, I don’t think anyone would have bothered them.”

Bellecourt said a juror leaving the Government Center told him that five jurors wanted to acquit from the beginning, but a single holdout would not budge. Should the case go to trial once again, he’s confident he’ll be acquitted.

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” he said.

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