What was Ollie’s crime?

May 5, 2010

Ollie Anthony still has five years in prison hanging over him for the "crime" of knocking off a policeman's cap, reports Joe Allen.

STAN ANTHONY and his wife, Ann, were sleeping when the phone ran at their Shelby, North Carolina home on the night of March 15, 2009. The caller said he was a friend of their son, Ollie. He told them that Ollie had been arrested the previous day at an antiwar demonstration in Chicago, and had been beaten up pretty badly by the cops.

Stan readily admits that he and his wife were "terrified," and shudders at the memory of that night. "Needless to say we did not sleep well that night not knowing where or what was going on with our son."

Ollie was 22 years old, an adult with his own life, but when he was a teenager he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the well-known psychiatric illness characterized by a wild mood swings and depression.

Stan and Ann were already concerned about the current state of Ollie's mental health. Ann spoke to Ollie three days prior to his arrest and told Stan "he was talking strange and sounded like he was having a manic episode." They tried repeatedly to get a hold of him without any luck. Many messages were left over several days but no calls were returned.

Chicagoans march against war and occupation in an annual protest to mark the anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq
Chicagoans march against war and occupation in an annual protest to mark the anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq (Michael Kappel)

The following morning Stan and Ann started making calls to Ollie's friends. Their anxiety worsened when they learned that Ollie was charged with aggravated battery on a police officer--something that could carry serious jail time if he was convicted. They also learned that the injuries Ollie received during his arrest required him to stay overnight in a local hospital.

Friends of Ollie's in Chicago had already contacted Jim Fennerty, a well-known progressive attorney, who had a member of his staff visit Ollie at Cook County jail. Ollie was being held in the psychiatric wing of the jail on a $75,000 bond. Stan was shocked to learn how high the bond was after he and Jim Fennerty finally were able to speak. The Anthonys wired the bail money to Chicago and Ollie was released pending trial. He had spent a total of five days in jail.

Stan and Ann flew up to Chicago on March 28 to see their son for the first time since his arrest. It was a bittersweet first trip to Chicago for the couple. Stan is an architect. He had always wanted to visit Chicago because of its famed architecture, "Never would I have dreamed that my first trip to the beautiful 'Windy City' would be to fight the state of Illinois over such a seemingly ridiculous charge."

MARCH 14, 2009, was a surprisingly warm spring day for Chicago's now annual demonstration against the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Chicago Anti-War and Immigrants' Right Coalition was an ad hoc grouping of the region's many progressive organizations concerned about U.S. foreign policy, the militarization of the public schools, and immigrant rights. It had been meeting since the beginning of the year to plan the demonstration in the recreation room of St. Pius' Church in Pilsen, a neighborhood of mostly Mexican immigrants about three miles southeast of downtown Chicago.

The rally began on a small patch of greenery at the corner of Cermak and Marshall Boulevard in Little Village, another Mexican immigrant neighborhood another few miles southwest of Pilsen. The demonstration would begin after a series of speeches and march east on Cermak and a final rally would be held in front of Rudy Lozano Library in Pilsen. The march would take it through the heart of Chicago's two largest, mostly Mexican neighborhoods.

Oliver Anthony, "Ollie" to his friends and family, came for a visit to Chicago six weeks earlier with a friend who had been a student at the School of the Art Institute. He had spent most of the previous year working as an apprentice farmer in Maine learning to plant and harvest a wide variety of vegetables and raising chickens. Ollie liked the outdoor work and the routine of farm life. After the harvesting season was over, he went back to his hometown of Shelby, N.C.--a small city with a population just over 20,000 in the western part of the state.

While Shelby calls itself "The City of Pleasant Living," it really has the look of a large, rural town. Stan is a native of Shelby and has lived here most of his adult life, "Like many southerners I suppose, my family has been here for generations with very deep roots."

He left Shelby in pursuit of a college education and career, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and a Masters degree from Georgia Tech. "I spent the longest period in Atlanta, where I met my wife, Ann. She grew up in suburban Atlanta and was working there when we met."

They moved to Shelby after they married to raise a family. Today, Stan is a principal architect in the firm of MBAJ and a member of the city council in Shelby. Ann is a librarian at a local elementary school.

Ollie was born in Shelby on August 21, 1986. He has a younger brother, Perry. When Ollie was growing up he was by all accounts a good student, making the honor roll on a regular basis. He played on his school's soccer team, and in his spare time he learned to play bass guitar. Ollie was also a voracious reader, which Stan attributes to his mother's influence.

There was, however, a dramatic change when he was a freshman in high school. One day Stan and Ann received a call from a teacher saying that Ollie was acting "very unusual, unlike his normal behavior. We later learned this unusual behavior was his first manic episode." Ollie was hospitalized and after three days of examinations, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Stan Anthony is an intelligent man and speaks clearly and deliberately, but a slight tone of weary frustration works its way into his voice when he describes the struggles to get adequate care for his son:

Needless to say, having a family member with bipolar disorder is extremely painful. You want to help but little help is available. We live in a small "city" in western N.C., and mental health professionals are extremely difficult to find. For the most part we have to go to Charlotte NC, about an hour drive east of where we live.

Through the persistent efforts his parents, Ollie was eventually prescribed the proper medication and counseling. "For a couple of years things were okay with Ollie," Stan remembers. Ollie's high school English teacher, Glenda Self, who helped steer Ollie through some difficult school years, writes:

Ollie and I began our teacher-student relationship during his junior year when he became a student in my Honors American English class. In my classroom students worked both independently and in small groups to develop their communication skills. Ollie, an intelligent young man, met the challenges of the difficult coursework individually and as a group leader, often adding insight and humor during presentations and class discussions.

An avid reader, he often "went the extra mile" to improve his grade and by reading optional books that I approved.

He also excelled in the school's drama program.

OLLIE WAS coping remarkably well. This all came crashing down in his senior year.

Stan remembers that Ollie went in to a deep, crippling depression that lasted for several months. "He would not leave the house for days and stayed in his room all day and night. He almost did not finish high school but for a few caring teachers he was able to graduate on time."

Once again, Glenda Self extended a helping hand. "I worked independently him to complete his coursework for graduation. Always courteous and respectful in spite of a spiraling depression, he listened to my suggestion; with help from me and other teachers, he met the requirements to graduate."

After Ollie graduated high school, he did what a lot of young people do who haven't made up their mind about a career--they try a number of different things to see what they like and want to pursue. Ollie took some college courses at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and worked for a local veterinarian. He was then offered the opportunity to work on a farm in Maine. He jumped at the chance. Stan thought, "The farm experience in 2008 seemed to be the best fit for Ollie."

Stan and Ann were under the impression that Ollie was going to return to the farm in Maine after spending a few months in Chicago. "Unfortunately," Stan remarks bitterly, "the Chicago police had different plans."

A SMILE comes upon Ollie's face when recalling his first days in Chicago, "I really liked Chicago. It was exciting and I was always meeting interesting people. Things were always going on. I started thinking of looking into schools."

He found temporary housing in a collective house in the North Lawndale section of Chicago. But there were also the usual problems he had being in a new place. "Adjusting to new places and new things is more difficult for me than other people."

The night before the antiwar demonstration, the collective put on a big bash, "We had a few hundred at the party at the collective house. We had bands playing and banner making. It was my first big march and I was looking forward to it, but I was also feeling anxious, if not manic."

The next morning the members of the collective house, including Ollie, walked over to the rally point with a banner. They were also handing out leaflets for a free school to be hosted at the collective house on gardening and women's health. "Some of the collective house were also going to do some street theater," Ollie recalls, with members of the collective satirizing greedy bankers and corrupt politicians. But as he got closer to the rally point his excitement was turning into dread and anxiety.

"The police presence was disconcerting," he says. The streets were lined with the brown-jacketed Illinois state police dressed in riot gear replete with helmets, long batons and bulletproof vests underneath their jackets. There was also plenty of Chicago police on hand, and they as well as the state police carried pepper spray.

Many people who attend perfectly legal and peaceful demonstrations in Chicago for the first time are always amazed by the large and menacing police presence. Such large police turnouts for protests in Tehran or Moscow usually result in the U.S. State Department condemning the respective governments for human rights violations, but not in Chicago.

As the march began, Ollie's emotional state was beginning to crack. "I was getting really anxious and in tears. I was feeling overwhelmed." And then it happened. "I started saying 'fuck you' to the cops and they ignored me or laughed at me, then I went around the back of one of them and flipped his hat off and ran."

The hat belonged to 34-year-old Patrol Officer Frank Sarabia of the 10th District. The march started out with about 800 people, and grew as it moved east on Cermak. Ollie says that after he flipped the hat off of Sarabia, "I got back into the march."

The Chicago Police Department's official "incident report" is remarkably similar to Ollie's account except on one point. "At 2601 W. Cermak, Anthony approached P.O. Sarabia and P.O. Olsen and pointed at the officers and shouted 'Fuck you' and the officers ignored him," the report reads. It continues:

As Officer Sarabia walked away from Anthony, offender looked at the P.O. Sarabia's duty weapon and stated "Do you know it's illegal to carry a gun in the city of Chicago?" As P.O. Sarabia turned to Anthony, offender struck P.O. Sarabia on the back of his head with his hand and immediately fled into the crowd.

Sarabia claimed Ollie had bruised him on the back of his head.

"Officers devised a tactical plan to extract him from the crowd," the incident report continues. Patrol Officer Jason Acevedo "had to perform a tactical takedown maneuver in order for him to be handcuffed." A "tactical takedown maneuver" is a fancy term for a football tackle.

"Cops grabbed me and slammed me to the ground," recalls Ollie. Then one of them punched him in the back and another put his knee into his back, and several cops piled on top of him. They "pepper sprayed me twice, once in the eyes and then in the mouth."

The police "tactical plan" for arresting Ollie had no consideration for its impact on the other demonstrators. "Out of nowhere a bunch cops pounce on this guy that nobody knew," remembers Shaun Harkin, one of the march organizers. "There was just no reason for it. Nothing happened on the march to justify it."

The demonstration was cut in two and many people wondered if a full-scale melee was going to break out. People surrounded the police and chanted, "Let him go."

The police pushed Ollie through the crowd in hand cuffs and put him in a patrol wagon. Ollie was bleeding from the face and having trouble breathing normally. He was hacking and coughing. His mouth burned from the pepper spray. "I told them that I wanted to go to the hospital. They put me in a patrol wagon and took me to Mt. Sinai hospital."

The marchers regrouped and continued on to Pilsen, bewildered by what had happened and who had been arrested.

AT MOUNT Sinai hospital, Ollie told the staff he was bipolar. They first worked on cleaning him up and getting the pepper spray out his eyes. Ollie remembers it was all very disorienting and painful. "They pried my eyes open to flush out the pepper spray."

When medical staff temporarily left the room, a bunch of Chicago cops came in and started hurling insults at him. One cop looked over at the eyewash used to get the pepper spray out and said, "Too bad it ain't cat piss." Another cop leered at him and demanded to know, "Who do you work for?"

When the medical staff came back in the cops stood there silently. This treatment was making his situation a lot worse. "They wanted to fingerprint me, but I was in a really anxious state and didn't want people touching me. They had me sedated. They shackled me to my bed over night."

The next day, he was formally charged with aggravated battery on a police officer and locked up at Cook County jail awaiting bail. They put him in the psychiatric wing. The photograph taken of Ollie during his booking shows a handsome, young man with disheveled sandy blond hair looking totally drained and exhausted.

Jim Fennerty is a veteran attorney and has represented many young people before the courts. Working with Ollie's parents, Fennerty tried for months to get the state's attorney to drop the charge down to a misdemeanor. They exchanged evidence and presented extensive documentation of Ollie's bipolar condition, but the state's attorney would not budge on the felony charge.

The only thing the state's attorney offered was for Ollie to plead guilty to the charge in exchange for probation. But that would mean a felony conviction on his record. Fennerty recommended that Ollie have a bench trial instead of jury trial, hoping to get a sympathetic judge who might just convict him of a misdemeanor if it came down to it.

Ollie's parents were desperate for him not to have a felony conviction on his record. But getting a judge in Cook County who is not sympathetic to the police or to the state's attorney is a very difficult task. Many judges are former police officers or state's attorneys.

Ollie drew Judge Diane Gordon Cannon. Elected to the bench in November 1996, she had previously spent her entire legal career prior to becoming a judge as an assistant Cook County state's attorney. She had gained some notoriety last year when she chastised lawyers from the Sidley Austin law firm for the "dripping sarcasm" of their legal brief defending Northwestern University in its ongoing battle with Cook County prosecutors over the school's world renowned Innocence Project.

"If you think you can come into a court of law and treat it as an editorial, a sandbox or a bar, you're wrong," Cannon said in open court to Sidley Austin partner Richard O'Brien. One would think that editorializing is a big part of being a defense attorney, but apparently not in Gordon-Cannon's courtroom.

OLLIE HAD a one-day trial on January 10, 2010. He was previously examined and found mentally fit to stand trial. He was found guilty as charged by Judge Gordon-Cannon.

During the trial, Jim Fennerty tried to get mental health issues into the court record when he ask Officer Frank Sarabia, whom Ollie was accused of allegedly bruising, if he was aware that Ollie was placed in the psychiatric unit at the county jail. The state's attorney immediately objected to the question. The judge sustained the objection. She didn't believe that Ollie's bipolar condition has any bearing on the charges against him. Ollie was to be sentenced the following month.

"It's a beautiful building," Stan told me in the hallway Judge Gordon Cannon's courtroom. It was February 25, 2010, the day of Ollie's sentencing, nearly a year after the traumatic events. The courtrooms at 26th and California exude authority and solemnity. The dim lighting, the dark paneling, and the hardwood seating give them an almost funereal feeling. The judge's bench towers over everyone in the room.

About 20 of Ollie's friends appeared in court to support him. They looked and dressed like many young people, with tattoos, piercings, dyed hair and alternative dress styles. They quickly caught the attention of a female sheriff's deputy who sternly warned them "that a certain decorum is expected in a courtroom." Ollie's friends smiled and politely nodded--this wasn't the first time they had gotten this reaction.

The Honorable Judge Gordon Cannon entered the room and sat in the officious high back leather chair. She quickly dismissed Jim Fennerty's request for a new trial for Ollie. "The evidence," she noted, "was proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

Fennerty introduced character references for Ollie from former teachers, a psychologist, and members of his former church. Stan Anthony was allowed to take the stand:

Your honor, first of all, let me say that Ollie's bipolar condition is no excuse for what happened to the extent that--as his father, that I can apologize to the Court. I feel responsible and the need to do that. Ollie has struggled with this condition for many years."

His faced darkened as he went on.

My wife and I, on the way up here today, were talking about ever since he was ten years old he has been in and out of therapy. We have struggled with it for many years. We saw him go from being a very bright, high achieving person to one in the great depths of depression. He almost didn't get out of high school. He did, through the support of some very caring teachers. We are very grateful for that. He has had a lot of bad luck.

Stan then turned and looked at the judge, and pleaded in a dignified voice, "We are just asking for some compassion and mercy from the Court."

It was now Judge Diane Gordon Cannon's turn to get on her soapbox and editorialize.

"If five years in the penitentiary would make you not bipolar anymore, I would give you five years in the penitentiary," she said looming over Ollie.

"I want you to understand if I give you the mental health probation and you violate it...you will be in the penitentiary for five years." To impress upon Ollie that she was serious she added, "That hearing will take about 15 seconds."

The judge sentenced Ollie to 30 months' mental health probation. She finished with a sarcastic flourish: "You are now a convicted felon."

Was this an act of compassion?

Compare Ollie's case with that former Chicago police officer Anthony Abbate. Abbate is the huge police officer caught on videotape punching and kicking a diminutive bartender, Karolina Obrycka, in February 2007. In fact, the drunken Abbate had assaulted a total of three people in the course of six hours that same evening.

Explaining why he sentenced Abbate to only two years probation, Judge Richard Flemming explained, "He didn't cause serious harm--the doctor said it was bumps and bruises."

LuAnn Snow, the assistant State's Attorney who prosecuted him said that his behavior that evening was "a day in the life of Anthony Abbate." Karolina Obrycka told Judge Richard Fleming in a brief statement that, "It was terrifying to be attacked by such a big man. I tried to protect myself, but I was helpless."

March 18, 2010, was a perfect night for a march up Michigan Avenue. The skies were clear with temperatures in the high sixties. The year's anniversary demonstration was very different from 2009. The city granted a parade permit without to much hassle.

It even appeared that Mayor Daley had joined the antiwar movement. A month earlier, speaking at an awards dinner, the mayor, frustrated by the fiscal meltdown of local and state governments and the continued massive funding of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, declared, "Today we can't take care of America." He lamented the absence of antiwar activism and wondered out loud, "Where are the antiwar people? I thought war was evil?"

Fifteen hundred antiwar people marched up Michigan Avenue to Washington Square Park on March 18, including Ollie and myself. I asked him how he was doing, and said that we should get together and talk about his case. We did two weeks later.

Stan Anthony is still worried about his son's future. "My wife and I have struggled with this for some time, the pain of seeing our son, gifted in so many ways, burdened with this horrible mental disorder and now with the added weight of a felony conviction on his record."

Sitting on my couch, Ollie told me that he is taking his proper medication and once a week he sees a therapist. Every two weeks he sees his probation officer, whom he gets along with really well.

Yet he still has five years in prison hanging over him for the crime of knocking off a policeman's cap.

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