by KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & remarkable display of unity among 17 young people arrested after a protest march into Riverfront Park on the Fourth of July appears to have led to a peaceful resolution of trespass and assault charges.
The "Spokane 17," as attorney John Clark calls his clients, recently refused an offer from city prosecutors to dismiss misdemeanor trespass charges.
We refuse to let you let us go, they say, unless Zach gets a deal.
Zach St. John, a 19-year-old Spokane musician, also was arrested as police dispersed the group of young protesters. A police officer reported that he was choked by St. John, who was then booked on a felony assault charge.
But in the face of defiance by the Spokane 17, city prosecutors went back to the drawing board and, in a deal that will become final Thursday, are offering to reduce St. John's charges to "riot," a misdemeanor.
"I will be accepting an offer," St. John said earlier this week. "This is really good. It shows that at the end this can all work out in a somewhat civil manner."
St. John says he is moving soon to Pittsburgh to attend college with plans to become a teacher. "I can't have a felony conviction and be a social studies teacher," he says.
About 40 or 50 people joined a march put on by ASAP, Alternative Solutions and Possibilities. The group walked from Peaceful Valley into Riverfront Park on July 4 protesting police brutality, citing two in-custody deaths.
As they set up for a vegan picnic on a giant American Flag, park security and police ordered the group to move, saying the space was rented by the radio station sponsoring Neighbor Day at the park.
The mass arrests for trespass and disorderly conduct created a firestorm about issues of free speech and free assembly on public ground, drawing the attention of dozens of attorneys who offered to defend the protesters for free.
In fact city attorney Jim Craven issued a report to the mayor saying a review of available video showed no obvious criminal conduct until the dispersal order was given.
"We all learned valuable lessons out of this incident," Clark says. "Significant steps have been taken to resolve this to everyone's satisfaction. We've been in discussions all along to handle this without anybody getting scapegoated on either side -- not the cops, not the kids."
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