U.S. judge releases 4 DNC fence jumpers; Kenney pleased with Philly police response

    Anna Marie Sternberg of Fort Bragg

    Anna Marie Sternberg of Fort Bragg

    Four Bernie Sanders supporters who scaled a fence in a Secret Service-restricted zone Tuesday night during the second day of the Democratic National Convention will be released Wednesday.

    A federal judge ordered them to be let go, though they still face misdemeanor charges of entering a restricted area.

    Five protesters climbed the fence together, but only four were arrested by federal authorities. It’s unclear why the fifth was not detained.

    Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said during a briefing Wednesday that the fence-jumpers committed a federal crime by scaling a fence and landing in a federally restricted area.

    He advised protesters going forward to avoid trespassing into federally restricted areas.

    “If you do, you will be dealing with the United States government,” he said.

    Federal authorities “may be open” to referring those cases to the state system, Ross said, but he said he didn’t have details of those talks.

    Charged with one count each of entering a restricted area were Barbara Burns of Boston; Katherine Roberts, 37, of North Carolina; Anna Marie Sternberg, 69, of Northern California; and James Williams, 19, of the Baltimore area. If found guilty, they could face be fine and imprisoned up to a year. 

    According to the criminal complaint, from 8:15 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday,  the four “ignored the orders of the law,” scaling the fence and trespassing on restricted grounds.

    “I see, like so many of us see, the death throes of our democracy,” said protester Sternberg, wearing a Occupy DNC 2016 T-shirt and a “NO TPP” button, referring to Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

    “I see the students, the young people, fighting, fighting really hard, and I came here to support them and stand up for our democracy,” she said.

    Sternberg said she climbed the fence thinking she would be fined $50, as more than 50 protesters did the day before. City police did issue citations, but federal authorities then filed criminal charges against the group, since the space had been designated a federally protected site. 

    “The question is whether the government has the power to designate where the fence is,” said defense attorney Paul Hetznecker, who is representing Sternberg and Williams. “That decision to  decide what’s a federally protected area, randomly, whenever they decide to, bodes very dangerously on our First Amendment rights.”

    Attorney Trevan Borum, who is representing Burns, said group was objecting to the protest limitations around the Wells Fargo Center.

    “What good are First Amendment rights if you’re in the middle of a forest protesting? They deliberately segregated the protesters so their message couldn’t be heard,” Borum said.

    An official with the Secret Service said before the four are released Wednesday, they will be interviewed to make sure none are of “malicious intent.”

    ‘Very, very proud of police’

    Meanwhile, on the third day of the event, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said the things he can control are going well.

    “Other than the sweltering heat, I think it’s going great.  I’m very, very proud of our police department and officers on the street who are interacting with people in a kind and helpful way,” Kenney said. “People are commenting all the time — protesters and citizens — that the police are just exemplary professionals.”

    Decriminalizing minor offenses, such as disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct and blocking a highway, has helped keep the city running smoothly, he said.

    “It’s working,” Kenney said. “It also keeps the officers on the street longer, because if you just issue a citation and put the people on their way, they are back on patrol again.  The Secret Service makes their own decision on who to charge and why, and that’s not our doing.”

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.