A Seattle man arrested after protesting Fremont’s illegal immigrant ordinance was found guilty of trespassing Thursday in Dodge County Court.
Lyle George, 57, was ordered to pay $199 in fines and court costs after Dodge County Judge Kenneth Vampola found him guilty of second-degree criminal trespass, a Class III misdemeanor.
George was arrested May 16 when he refused to leave the Municipal Building at closing time, stating he was there protesting the ordinance and would not leave voluntarily.
The housing provision of the Fremont ordinance requires renters to obtain a $5 license at the police station and swear they are in the city legally. The ordinance was approved in 2010, survived numerous legal appeals and an attempted repeal during a February special election. In May the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, letting stand the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the ordinance is not discriminatory against Latinos and does not interfere with federal immigration law.
The Associated Press reported that Fremont Police Chief Jeff Elliott said nearly 500 rental licenses have been issued to people who applied and paid the $5 fee.
Only applicants who say they aren't U.S. citizens are investigated, but none of the 17 people who said they aren't citizens have been scrutinized.
Fremont lacks an agreement with the federal government, so Elliott said none of the applicants have been investigated.
During Thursday’s brief trial, Deputy Dodge County Attorney Michael Murer called only two witnesses, Fremont City Attorney Paul Payne and Fremont Police officer Brian Soucie. Both testified they asked George to leave the city building because it was past business hours.
“He politely declined to leave the premises,” Payne testified.
Soucie testified he requested that George leave the building three times, after the third refusal the officer placed George under arrest for trespassing.
George, appearing without counsel and having waived his right to a jury trial, based his defense on the accuracy of the clocks used to determine when the city building should close. He questioned Payne as to how the clock on his computer and the clock on the wall in the city building were calibrated. Payne informed George the clocks are auto-updated.
George questioned Soucie as to how he determined the time of the arrest to be 4:39 p.m., to which the officer informed him the official arrest time is transmitted through the dispatch center.
The state rested its case after less than 15 minutes.
George took the stand, and said his intention was to protest the Fremont ordinance because “rights are not something you vote on, that’s why they’re rights.”
He argued because the times reported were varying and approximate, he was in cuffs before the actual close of business. George pointed to the clock in the courtroom and said it was off by one minute compared to the official time reported by the U.S. Naval Observatory.
“I am willing to forget about it if they are willing to forget about it,” George said on the stand.
In closing remarks, George said “The thing I’ve done and been arrested for is for the greater good of Fremont, Nebraska and for the greater good of the United States of America.”
Outside the courtroom George said he’s paying to get his message into the court record. A native of Nebraska who moved to Seattle about 20 years ago, George said the ordinance hurts the reputation of Fremont and the state.
“It is clearly an attempt to marginalize people who are browner than the average person here,” he said. “And it doesn’t matter if they’re Hispanic, I mean if a bunch of people from the Lakota Tribe started moving into town, the same people would be upset and bent out of shape.”