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Greg Koger was found guilty on three misdemeanor counts by a jury on Thursday, August 26, 2010. Charges against him were pressed by the so-called Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago and carried out by the Skokie police and a Cook County State's Attorney. After he was found guilty following a three-day trial, a judge immediately revoked his bond and sent him directly to the Cook County jail where he spent last night.
I met Greg in 2005 through the UC-IMC Books to Prisoners program. Greg was then an inmate in Pontiac Correctional Center and we became pen pals. In December 2006, Greg was released and has since lived in Chicago and held a job as a paralegal working for an attorney.
To hear of Greg's re-incarceration is crushing. Greg is no harm to society. His jailing is another sign of a cruel and inhumane criminal in-justice system.
Below is a statement from the Ad Hoc Committee for Reason and Dropping the Charges in support of Greg.
Recording with a mobile phone at a venue promoted is apparently now a crime in Skokie, Illinois. Gregory Koger was jailed today for using a mobile phone camera at a controversial event promoted as free and open to the public. The judge in the case instantly revoked his bond and sent him to jail after he was convicted of criminal misdemeanor charges.
Mr. Koger’s attorney, Scott Frankel, says "I am unbelievably disappointed with the verdict, and I know we will appeal. Gregory is a fine man and does not deserve this. I was stunned by the Court's decision to revoke Gregory's bond."
Mr. Frankel is immediately appealing the bond’s revocation. He says there is also a strong basis for appealing the conviction. During the trial, Mr. Frankel objected strenuously to a number of judicial decisions that strengthened the prosecution case.
Mr. Koger was arrested in November, 2009 when he was taking pictures of an event. A local group had canceled a long-scheduled speech by a controversial speaker. The canceled speaker came to their hall before the group’s Sunday program was scheduled to begin to make a short statement objecting to the cancellation and to invite attendees to hear her speak that morning at another location. Mr. Koger accompanied her and began to videotape her statement. When Mr. Koger was asked to stop videotaping, he put down his camera, and instead used his iPhone simply to document the canceled speaker’s very brief statement.
Mr. Koger was charged with trespass, but the trespass law states that you must be ordered to leave and then show you intend to remain after you have been given notice to leave. Testimony in court made it clear that when the head of the organization confronted Mr. Koger, he never ordered Mr. Koger to leave. He told Mr. Koger to quit filming, but there is no law against filming. Throughout the trial, the State’s Attorney repeatedly equated filming with trespass, even though filming is not supposed to be a crime.
Gregory Koger was finally ordered to leave by the police as they were already dragging him out of the auditorium. They did not give him a chance to leave on his own after they started to physically eject him. According to Attorney Frankel, the police then “threw him against a wall, pushed him to the floor, Maced him after he was handcuffed, and then charged him with resisting arrest.” As a result he has a $1000 emergency room bill for his injuries. [See article in the Chicago Reader at http:tinyurl.com/yctqztb]
Strangely, the day before, the cancelled speaker had given a workshop in the exact same location. Mr. Koger had videotaped that entire event without incident. A witness, a former member of EHSC, testified that, to his knowledge, no one had ever been prohibited from filming or taking photographers at that organization's events.
Should Mr. Koger face 3 years in jail for using an iPhone? The use of such camera phones has become ubiquitous for bringing events of the day to TV coverage as well as to the internet. Are the police now free to arrest and beat photographers who are documenting controversial events?
This is the same case where in April the prosecutor brought criminal contempt charges against Mr. Koger in an unsuccessful attempt to shut down his defense committee’s website. (See www.dropthecharges.net) Those charges raised serious First Amendment rights issues, as does today’s conviction.
Regarding the charges, Attorney Scott Frankel says, “Mr. Koger did not commit a crime.” Frankel objected to a number of rulings that prevented the defense from presenting evidence to the jury that could have impacted the outcome.
For example, the judge would not allow the original police report filed in November to be entered as evidence. That report told a different story than the one police officers told in court on Wednesday.
In addition, the judge allowed the State’s Attorney to make significant changes to the charges on the first day of the trial, without giving Mr. Koger and his attorney any advance notice or any time to prepare accordingly.
The State’s Attorney also misstated the law when she repeatedly said that breaking property owners’ rules on their property is trespassing. Her reasoning would mean that if there is a rule against drinking coffee in a theater, then you are trespassing if you drink coffee there.
The November 1, 2009 event took place at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago after Sunsara Taylor’s long-standing invitation to speak was suddenly cancelled.
Sentencing for Mr. Koger will be on Wednesday, September 8. He was convicted of criminal trespass, resisting arrest, and simple battery. Gregory Koger could be given almost 3 years in jail - for taking photos at a controversial event. Besides the serious consequences for Mr. Koger, this trial also has deep implications for the media’s right to cover controversial events, as well as for the public’s right to know.
The trial was at the Cook County Courthouse, 5600 W. Old Orchard Road, Skokie, IL, in Courtroom 205.
For further information, call the Ad Hoc Committee for Reason and Dropping the Charges at 312-593-4191, or see www.dropthecharges.net