Judge declares Chattanooga woman, legislative protesters not guilty

Judge declares Chattanooga woman, legislative protesters not guilty

July 15th, 2011 by Andy Sher in Local - Breaking News

NASHVILLE - A Davidson County judge today said a Chattanooga woman and six fellow protesters were not guilty of disorderly conduct and resisting arrests charges after they disrupted a state Senate committee hearing in March, according to their defense attorney and the prosecutor's office.

General Sessions Court Judge Casey Moreland dismissed the disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges against Ash-Lee Henderson, of Chattanooga, and the others following a trial, said their attorney, Jonathan Farmer.

"He essentially ruled that the state hadn't carried its burden," Farmer said. "We believe the First Amendment is sacred in the state, and we think the judge made the right ruling."

The defense co-counsel was Jay Steed.

A spokeswoman for Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson confirmed the cases had been dismissed but had no further information.

Henderson, 25, an activist affiliated with Chattanooga Organized for Action, and the six others, all from the Memphis area, attended a March 15 state Senate Commerce Committee hearing where they shouted and chanted in protest of legislation aimed at restricting unions' ability to collectively bargain.

After refusing to leave, they were later forcibly removed by state troopers and charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

Others arrested, as identified at the time by state Safety Department officials, were Justin Sledge, 30; Leah Shoaf, 19; Jeffrey Lichtenstein, 25; Paul Warner, 22; Sally Joiner, 26; and Bennett Foster, 25.

Sledge said the group intended to release a statement either later today or Saturday.