A patriot is anyone who participates in our democratic processes or institutions for the betterment of the country. Two people can be on opposite sides of the same issue and both are patriots.
– Mike Madden, August 2017
At first glance, this gross-misdemeanor trial, which involved a year and a half of delays, numerous court filings and tens of thousands of dollars in prosecutorial, defense, judicial and staff costs, should have never gone to trial. On second glance, it may just have been as important a case on principle as any argued or tried last week in the Twin Cities.
I’m talking here about “State vs. Madden,” which wrapped up Friday after a nearly weeklong trial inside Hennepin County Judge Susan Burke’s 18th-floor courtroom in Minneapolis.
As I wrote months ago, Mike Madden, 61, a St. Paul carpenter/handyman, headed to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport the afternoon of Jan. 29, 2017, after he heard on the radio about an organized protest taking place there in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning people from several Muslim-majority nations from coming to the U.S.
As he would tell jurors when he took the witness stand in his defense last week, Madden strongly believed the ban was “unjust and unconstitutional.”
A member of Veterans For Peace, the Air Force veteran scrawled “Muslims welcome” on a sign and was dropped off at Terminal 1’s baggage-claim area by his wife, Gail. He got there several minutes after the protest group, estimated at 1,000, was twice ordered by bullhorn to leave the airport through its tram and light-rail transit stations, more than an hour after its permit to protest had expired.
Madden was similarly ordered as he approached the last handful of protesters entering the tram. He asked whether he could go back and protest at one of the “freedom of expression” booths tucked away at the opposite ends of the baggage-claim area. He was informed by airport police officer and 10-year veteran Jeffrey Kolesar that he needed a permit for the booths. Madden then asked to go back to the baggage-claim area because that was where his wife would come to pick him up.
Kolesar, who three times warned Madden that he would arrest him if he did not comply, told him that his only choice was to take the light rail or a bus. Long story short: Madden, believing Kolesar was being unjust or unreasonable in not permitting him to go back to the terminal, balked after arriving at the light-rail station by tram.
Madden put his arms behind his back. He was handcuffed, cited and booked by Kolesar for failure to comply with a police officer. He was also given a misdemeanor trespassing summons that would ban him from the airport for a year. Lawyers contracted by the Metropolitan Airports Commission upgraded the charge against Madden a month later to “trespassing in a critical public safety facility” — a gross misdemeanor that carries up to a year in prison and a $3,000 fine.
The upgrade, explained Jordan Kushner, Madden’s defense attorney, came after his client, who had never been arrested before, refused to take a plea deal.
Both parties agreed that Madden was peaceful and mostly compliant, and that Kolesar has the authority to order someone to leave the airport, though it has to be reasonable and with cause.
One key difference was what the two men remembered Madden saying at the point of arrest.
Kolesar heard: “I’m not leaving. Go ahead. Arrest me.”
“Once I tell someone to leave the airport, they have to leave the airport,” he told jurors. “I gave him a lawful order and he refused to leave.”
Kolesar acknowledged under cross-examination that he did not trust Madden to return to the terminal on his own and that he felt “someone like that would cause us problems.”
He also theorized that it was “probable” that Madden could have left the airport more quickly through the baggage-claim area if his wife were there to pick him up.
Madden told jurors that what he actually said to Kolesar at the point of arrest was: “If you do, I won’t resist.”
“I just felt that I was not going to surrender my First Amendment rights voluntarily,” Madden told the jurors. “(Kolesar) is a decent man with a hard job to do. But I just felt that he wanted to be done with all of it.”
Roger Meyer, a friend and former president of the Merriam Park Community Council where Madden served as a member for several years, described him as an honest and truthful man of integrity who is passionate about the First Amendment and other causes.
Another neighbor, Susan Nagel, echoed Meyer. “He was a role model to both my sons growing up,” she told the jury.
Madden drew a few chuckles from the three-man, three-woman jury when he recounted the day someone called him and asked him to return to the airport to pick up his 12-by-14-inch cardboard sign six weeks after his arrest.
He testified that he walked toward the light-rail station through the same baggage claim and other publicly accessible areas displaying his sign chest high as he did that winter day and “I was not molested.”
Jennifer Crancer, the lawyer representing MAC, did a good job representing the state’s view at closing. She stressed that the case was not whether Madden was a good or bad man or truthful. The sole issue, she said, whether the jurors disagreed with the law or its outcome, was that he was guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt because he was lawfully arrested after he repeatedly refused the order to leave airport property.
Kushner countered that his client never refused to leave the airport, but that he objected to leaving it only in the manner as directed by Kolesar. He showed a closed-circuit TV clip of at least one protester amicably chatting with two cops who were escorting him not to the light-rail platform but toward a nearby parking ramp connected to the terminal. He showed it to convince the jury that Madden’s request was not unreasonable.
“I submit that this prosecution shows no common sense,” Kushner said. “Mr. Madden had a good-faith belief that he had a right to be at that airport and to express his beliefs. That’s the bottom line.”
The jury began deliberations about 3:20 p.m. The judge intimated they would be dismissed if they did not reach a verdict by 4:30 p.m. and return Monday morning.
The crowd of spectators who attended the trial all week — many of them Madden supporters or friends who had contributed to his legal defense fund — milled outside in the hallway. I planned to head out when Burke’s law clerk called my cellphone at 3:56 p.m. to inform me a verdict was in. That quick?
The crowd rushed back into the courtroom. Burke read the verdict: Not guilty.
The crowd of spectators stood and applauded the jury as Burke dismissed them and thanked them for their service.
They included Debbie Meister of St. Paul.
“I just feel terrible that this is where we are spending our resources with a peaceful protest by a man who is passionate about the First Amendment and peace,” the soon-to-be-retired watershed district consultant told me at the start of testimony Friday. “It’s just a waste of time and resources.”
Maybe. Maybe not in the long run.
“This case was important because it’s about people’s free speech and freedom to dissent and the taking away of public spaces to be able to express yourself,” Kushner said. “We are heading toward a slippery slope, toward a police state when someone isn’t able to go and express political views in such public places as airports,” he added.
As for Madden, “I feel great,” he said as he was mobbed with hugs and handshakes after the verdict was read.
“You know, the way First Amendment rights have been eroding, this jury at least believes that the government has been too restrictive with speech,” he added. The state “did not prove that I refused to leave. I believe that they (the jury) felt that my First Amendment rights outweighed the order to leave.”
Madden, dressed in a dark blazer that has seen better days, a white dress shirt, jeans and brown boots, left the courthouse to celebrate with his wife and friends at Grumpy’s Bar and Grill in Northeast Minneapolis. His airport sign stayed back in the courtroom, along with his citation, CCTV video CDs, satellite pictures of the airport and other trial exhibits. He plans to get the sign back.
“And as I leave the courthouse, I’ll hold it just like I did at the airport,” he emailed Saturday.