Home News Local news CHARGES AGAINST PROTESTING TEACHER DISMISSED

CHARGES AGAINST PROTESTING TEACHER DISMISSED

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Jan. 9, 2003 – In a hearing lasting slightly more than half an hour Thursday afternoon on St. Thomas, Territorial Judge Brenda Hollar threw out the government's case against school teacher Yvonne Freeman, who had been charged with aggravated assault and battery against Kenneth Gittens, head of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's security force.
Hollar ruled at Freeman's rescheduled advice-of-rights hearing that there was no probable cause for the case to proceed. She said Freeman was "not properly arrested" and, therefore, the charge against her of "resisting arrest is inappropriate."
Gittens did not make the arrest, and it was not done in his presence, Hollar said. Therefore, she said, "you cannot find probable cause."
The arresting officer, Cirra Turpin, had testified earlier that she didn't see what had happened, Hollar said. Turpin was in court on Tuesday, the date for which the advice-of-rights hearing was originally scheduled; she did not testify on Thursday. Freeman also appeared on Tuesday, but Hollar rescheduled the hearing because Gittens was not available to testify then due to his involvement in events relating to Turnbull's inauguration.
Freeman, ironically, was celebrating her 25th year of teaching at Joseph Gomez Elementary School on Thursday.
She was arrested on Monday at the inaugural ceremony on St. Thomas after a clash between police and demonstrators protesting the 24th Legislature's approval of huge salary increases for the governor, lieutenant governor and senators. Members of Local 1825 of the American Federation of Teachers and others were demonstrating outside Emancipation Garden as the ceremony got under way there. (See "Police manhandle teacher, 69-year-old spouse".)
On Thursday, after listening to Assistant Attorney General Brenda Scales, witness Gittens and defense attorney Pedro Williams, Hollar said that since the arresting officer, Turpin, did not see what had actually happened, the arrest was not legal.
On the witness stand, Gittens claimed Freeman had been the aggressor, grabbing his tie. He was at the time wearing a plainclothes suit and tie. He said another teacher, Valerie Johnson, threw water on some policemen at the demonstration and an altercation ensued with Freeman. He accused of "throwing her hands" and said she used profane language when he told her to be quiet.
Gittens, who stands more than 6 feet tall, charged that the 51-year-old Freeman kicked him in the groin and the stomach, then "pulled me to the ground with her." He said he then told other officers, "This woman needs to be cuffed."
Williams asked Gittens to describe his job duties. Gittens said he oversees protecting the governor and lieutenant governor and any visiting dignitaries and heads of state.
Scales told Hollar it was a "simple case" of Freeman having struck Gittens first when he was trying to calm her down. Williams argued that Scales had failed to supply evidence to back that claim. "Gittens' duties were to protect the governor," Williams said. "At no time did Yvonne Freeman make any effort to cause harm to the governor."
Given Turpin's testimony on Tuesday that she had not seen what happened, Hollar asked: "How did she have authority to arrest?" The judge said the law is clear: The arresting officer didn't see what happened, and that made it an unlawful arrest.
After the hearing, Williams commented: "It's like if someone came up to you on the street to arrest you. It's unlawful. He expressed satisfaction with the ruling, adding, "I just wanted to see it over sooner than later."
Freeman was accompanied to court by her husband, Harry, who was struck on the head with a billy club by police and left bleeding on Monday when he went to protect his wife. Although police took him into custody and to police headquarters along with his wife, no charges were filed against him.
Also in the crowded courtroom Thursday were Vernelle de Lagarde, local AFT president, and a bevy of educators, among them Freeman's daughter Neema Gilkes, an 8th grade English teacher at Addelita Cancryn Junior High School.
Gilkes said her students had asked about the incident, but she had refrained from discussing it with them."Now," she said, "it will be an opportunity to explain to them about the First Amendment, and the right to peaceable assembly, and free speech."
Teachers were smiling as they left the courtroom, but there was no jubilance. From there, de Lagarde said, they were proceeding to a 4:30 p.m. AFT meeting where Freeman's case and further actions in opposition to the raises were among the items to be discussed.
Freeman's only statement was: "The hearing speaks for itself; I have no comment."
Before the hearing, waiting outside on the courtyard balcony of the Alexander A. Farrelly Justice Center, she and her husband talked about her career, noting the irony of spending her 25th anniversary in court. The hearing was scheduled for 3:30 p.m. so Freeman could teach her full day, which she had been unable to do on Tuesday.
Like her daughter, Freeman said she had not discussed the case with her students, other than to give the bare facts and explain what "out on bail" means. After being charged on Monday, she was released from police custody on $500 bail.
In 1992, Freeman was a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in teaching mathematics, which she has done at Gomez since 1978. After winning the award, she went back to the University of the Virgin Islands, where she earned a master's degree in technical education while still teaching at Gomez on a substitute basis.
Harry Freeman filled in details for his wife as, holding hands, they told about her trip to Washington, D.C., to receive the teaching award. "I had my picture taken with Hillary Clinton," Freeman said.
"We've been married for 13 years," her husband said, "but we've known each other forever."
They did not comment on whether they intend to sue the V.I. government over the Monday incident.

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