In a totally unexpected outcome that may not have pleased either side, a Sacramento federal judge on Wednesday acquitted an anti-drone protester charged with penetrating the boundary of Beale Air Force Base.
At the conclusion of a half-day, non-jury trial, U.S. Magistrate Judge Dale A. Drozd found Shirley Osgood, a 66-year-old from Grass Valley, not guilty because, the judge ruled, video footage of her alleged crime was inconclusive.
From time to time in acts of civil disobedience, some protesters deliberately step across white lines painted across roads approaching the base, which are far out from gate houses. The protesters’ theory is that arrests for trespassing and, for some, convictions in federal court for entering a military installation without permission, draw desired attention to their cause.
The crime carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison but, in each case, the prosecution has assured the judge it would not seek incarceration.
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Osgood is a regular on the protest line at Beale and was among a set of protesters found guilty at a non-jury trial by another federal magistrate judge last year. Others were found guilty at a non-jury trial in February before yet a third federal magistrate judge. All nine of those previously found guilty were sentenced to short terms of probation that included community service.
The three judges denied the defendants’ motions for a jury trial, and everybody involved – except Drozd, obviously – assumed the third trial would simply be a rerun of the previous two.
After hearing testimony and viewing the video, Drozd indicated he harbors doubts as to whether Osgood had actually stepped over the line Nov. 26. She sought to deliver a letter to the base commander decrying the war on terror’s use of reconnaissance and killer drones that, the protesters insist, are responsible for the deaths of scores of innocent people, including children, and for creating anti-American sentiment around the world.
The Global Hawk reconnaissance drones are based at and controlled from Beale. They seek out and pinpoint human targets for their killer cousins.
Drozd said the video presented by the prosecution seems to contradict testimony from both sides, in that it suggests Osgood may have been detained in an area that is not base property.
“All the testimony is credible,” the judge said, “however, in light of photo evidence, I am not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. I will not convict Ms. Osgood of this misdemeanor.”
The government did not prosecute three others who were arrested with Osgood in November. Likewise, no charges have yet been filed against five protesters, including three ministers, who were arrested after they stepped across the line on Ash Wednesday and knelt in prayer. They carried crosses and sprinkled ashes to commemorate the deaths of children allegedly killed by U.S. drones.