Acting with lightning speed, a jury of six acquitted Cortez resident Sherry Simmons on Friday, Dec. 10, of a misdemeanor charge of harassment.
Reading the jury instructions, which heavily emphasized First Amendment rights, almost took longer than the quarter-hour or less it took the jurors to find that Simmons had not been harassing Peace and Justice demonstrators in Cortez on Jan. 2.
Simmons, who represented herself, spoke in her own defense on Friday morning.
She said that she did indeed hear “harsh and unkind words” spoken to the Peace and Justice demonstrators on Jan. 2, but that she had asked the Montezuma County Patriots not to use the “F word,” although many did.
She also played a lengthy audiotape of an interview between then-Cortez Police Officer Steven King and Patty Coen, who had been at the demonstrations in downtown Cortez on Jan. 2 carrying canisters of wasp spray and bear spray.
Coen was never called as a witness in Simmons’ trial and was not involved in the incident where harassment was alleged, and the relevance of the audiotape was unclear.
Simmons, one of the main organizers of the Montezuma County Patriots, was one of six individuals charged with harassment for an incident on Jan. 2 in which Patriots allegedly confronted and hounded five Peace and Justice demonstrators on Cortez’s Main Street, yelling insults and using foul language.
Simmons was the only one who chose to take the case to trial.
The six people and perhaps a dozen others followed the five demonstrators closely for several blocks as the Peace and Justice group walked back to St. Barnabas Church, which was their starting point. The act of following was the actual basis of the harassment charges. A videotape of the incident clearly showed them following.
The other five people charged – one of whom was reportedly not a member of the Patriots – earlier this year accepted deferments in their cases, meaning they acknowledged wrongdoing without actually entering a guilty plea.
As part of the deferments, they paid fees and agreed to write letters of apology.
Cortez Mayor Mike Lavey, Colorado State Patrol Trooper Steven King (who was a Cortez police officer in January), and Raleigh Cato, one of the Peace and Justice organizers, all were called by the prosecution and testified on Thursday.