Judge reduces $1 million bail of protest suspect
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A Philadelphia judge on Monday reduced the $1 million bail of an alleged ringleader arrested in a police crackdown against protesters trying to disrupt last week's Republican National Convention, clearing the way for his release.
John Sellers, 33, who heads the Berkley, Calif.-based Ruckus Society, was one of two protesters who had their bail set at $1 million. Charged with a string of misdemeanors, Sellers has remained in jail for six days because his family was unable to post the 10 percent cash bond required for his release.
But on Monday, Common Pleas Judge Lisa Richette reduced bail to $100,000 during a hearing in which his parents and sister appeared on his behalf. That would allow him to walk free after posting a $10,000 cash bond.
Sellers was expected to be released on Tuesday. "Once we get the money, we'll figure out who to give it to," said his father, Franklin Sellers of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
As Ruckus Society executive director, Sellers oversees training programs that school activists in the art of nonviolent civil disobedience. His organization gained notoriety after training protesters who railed against the World Trade Organization last year in Seattle and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington in April.
Philadelphia authorities blamed him and other alleged protest leaders for Aug. 1 demonstrations marked by sporadic violence, which snarled downtown traffic, injured more than a dozen police officers and damaged nearly 30 city vehicles. Nearly 400 protesters have since been arrested.
"He was involved in a conspiracy to basically disrupt the whole city," said assistant District Attorney Joel Rosen.
Sellers has been arrested as a protester a half-dozen times since 1992, though not in Seattle or Washington.
The second protester jailed on $1 million bail was identified as Kathleen Sorensen, 34, a leading figure in Philadelphia Direct Action Group, a coalition of activist groups including the Ruckus Society which organized the Republican convention protests.
Sorensen, who is also a member of the AIDS advocacy group ACT UP Philadelphia, faces a series of felonies including arson, riot, risking a catastrophe and conspiracy.
Protest organizers and defense lawyers have decried the unusually high bail settings as evidence of illegal detention. "These attempts to criminalize legitimate free speech will have a chilling effect on other forms of legitimate dissent in this country," said defense lawyer Paul Hetznecker.
On Monday, the judge refused to lower a $500,000 bail requirement for a 20-year-old North Carolina man charged with assaulting Police Commissioner John Timoney.
All told, more than 100 protesters remained in jail after refusing to give their names in an act of so-called jail solidarity. Richette refused to negotiate with them. But she agreed that 16 who had decided to cooperate could be released on their own recognizance once their identities had been verified.
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