On March 5, 2012, Kristina Garza and Brianna Baxter were wrongly arrested outside Murrah High School, a government school in Jackson, Mississippi. They were arrested while peacefully distributing literature promoting the sanctity of human life to students leaving school as they passed by on the public sidewalk. The arrests were instigated by Jackson Public School (JPS) officials who intimidated and threatened Kristina and Brianna and succeeded in having them arrested for the exercise of their free speech rights. The pair looked forward to their day in court last week, certain they would be vindicated of the baseless charges against them.
However, justice was not served. One observer characterized the trial proceeding as “a kangaroo court.” The judge found Kristina Garza guilty of trespassing and disorderly conduct, dismissing one of the charges (abuse of a bus driver). The judge declined to proceed on the charges against Ms. Baxter who was not present in court due to taking final exams in California. Ms. Baxter was represented by an attorney and was prepared to go to trial in absentia. Despite this, the judge issued a warrant for her arrest.
It was clear from the beginning that Ms. Garza was not going to get a fair trial. The court refused to admit photographs and video that would have proved Garza’s innocence. One of the videos was recorded by a police officer who, at trial, claimed he had never seen the video before and denied its existence.
JPS officials originally ordered the young women to leave the sidewalk claiming that it was private property. This same sidewalk is open to the public and is used by students and members of the community every day. At trial, JPS officials claimed that a local ordinance transformed the sidewalk into private property for one hour after school dismissed.
While the judge was not persuaded by the unsubstantiated claim that sidewalk was private property, he did however find Garza guilty of trespassing based on new allegations that Ms. Garza and Ms. Baxter hung from school bus windows attempting to hand out pro-life literature to students on the bus (an entirely fabricated set of facts).
Mississippi attorneys, James Bell and Caleb Koonce, have appealed Garza’s convictions and look forward to an opportunity to present all of the evidence in the next phase of the case.
Meanwhile, LLDF attorneys are researching potential challenges to the laws under which Garza was found guilty, and are consulting with local attorneys regarding the potential for a federal civil rights lawsuit against JPS officials for the wrongful arrests and violation of free speech rights Garza and Baxter have suffered.
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