MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Court of Appeals has overturned the conviction of a protester involved in the shutdown of a major interstate.
Jeffrey Berger was the only person who was tried for blocking Interstate 94 during a protest of the police shooting of Philando Castile in July of 2016. Berger said his misdemeanor conviction was unconstitutional.
Close to four dozen people were prosecuted by the city of St. Paul for the freeway protest. But only one of the cases went to trial. Berger refused to take a plea deal.
“I thought going to trial was a better way of talking about the issues to a broader audience,” Berger said.
The 77 year old says he felt protesting was the right thing to do. He was convicted for being a public nuisance. He represented himself in trial, but then teamed up with ACLU Minnesota to appeal the verdict. The court of appeals reversed the conviction.
“I was surprised it was reversed, I’m pleased,” said ACLU Legal Director Teresa Nelson.
The court reasoned that the state did not prove Berger personally made I-94 dangerous that night by following the crowd onto the freeway.
“Rounding people up and subjecting them to a group punishment is not OK under our constitution,” Nelson said.
The court made note that Berger was on the westbound side where protesters were peaceful. Demonstrators in the east lanes threw rocks and debris at police.
RELATED: 21 Officers Injured In I-94 Protests
Berger was also charged with unlawful assembly, but he was acquitted on that charge. He says overturning the conviction is a victory for freedom of speech.
“We need to call attention to the fact that people are being killed, families are being destroyed, people’s lives are being tragically affected, and business can’t go on as usual in this situation,” Berger said.
The court did note that the state could have charged Berger with trespassing or obstructing the legal process.
Berger already served a year of probation and paid a fine that he believes will be refunded.