OAKLAND – The trial of middle-school teacher Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi, charged with obstructing a police officer in the course of duty, opened in superior court Thursday morning.
Jacobs-Fantauzzi, 24, is accused of deliberately standing in the path of a peace officer, as part of the multiple acts of civil disobedience stemming from a conflict between KPFA and its governing board, the Pacifica Foundation. KPFA is a 50-year-old listener-sponsored radio station in Berkeley.
A jury of 13, including one alternate - seven men, six women, of whom six appear to be African American, five appear Caucasian, one appears Asian-American and one whose ethnicity is not clearly evident – listened intently as Assistant District Attorney David Lim outlined the facts which, he said, would lead them to conclude that Jacobs-Fantauzzi is guilty of standing in the way of an officer who was trying to get to a protester, illegally setting up a tent on the sidewalk in front of the radio station.
Lim said that the officer asked Jacobs-Fantauzzi to move and when he refused, he went around him in order to go to the protester. But when the officer moved to the left, Jacobs-Fantauzzi moved in order to stop the officer from accomplishing his mission.
Jacobs-Fantauzzi’s attorney, Richard Krech, painted a different picture for the jury, contending that his client was illegally arrested.
“The evidence will show that Mr. Jacobs-Fantauzzi did not delay or obstruct police officers,” he told the jury.
To prove his allegations, Lim put Sgt. Randolph Files on the stand as his first witness. Files was the officer in charge of arresting Jacobs-Fantauzzi.
Files told the jurors how he and fellow officers crossed the street, walking toward the protester who was setting up a tent.
“Mr. (Jacobs-)Fantauzzi demanded to know why we were there and what we were intending to do,” he told the court, explaining that, after some dialogue, he told Jacobs-Fantauzzi that if he didn’t move, he would be arrested.
“Mr. (Jacobs-)Fantauzzi was 2 1/2 to 3 feet away, a distance that makes me feel unsafe, invading my personal zone,” Files said.
“In an effort to de-escalate (the situation) I stepped out of Mr. (Jacobs-)Fantauzzi’s way,” Files told the jury, demonstrating how he stepped to the left. “Mr. (Jacobs-)Fantauzzi stepped in front of me again,” he said. Then he said he told Jacobs-Fantauzzi, as he had earlier, that if he wouldn’t move, he would be arrested.
Jacobs-Fantauzzi didn’t move and Files ordered his arrest.
“The whole exchange took less than – or about – one minute,” he said.
Files said that Jacobs-Fantauzzi first went limp, then stiff, then flailed with his arms and legs, making it difficult to arrest him. Finally, the officers picked him up and carried him to a police van.
When it was time for his cross-examination, Krech tried to show the jury inconsistencies in Files testimony. In his March 6 testimony, during a pre-trial hearing, Files said Jacobs-Fantauzzi went limp, but in his police report, Krech said that Files wrote “we took him to the ground.”
Files explained the apparent inconsistency by saying that Jacobs-Fantauzzi’s demeanor changed from going limp to being active and that officers needed to intervene.
Later in the cross examination, Krech posed a number of questions, trying to ascertain whether the two officer-witnesses may have talked together about the facts of the case, thus leading to possible adjustments in one story or another.
Krech had Files point out to the jury that, just that morning, Files and another witness, Officer Kevin Schofield, viewed a videotape of the arrest together in Lim’s office. This videotape has been entered into evidence.
Files stated unequivocally that even thought the two witness officers viewed the tape at the same time, they did not discuss the facts of the case together.
Files continues on the stand today at 9:30 a.m., Department 105, Superior Court, 661 Washington St., Oakland.