The office of Manhattan DA Cy Vance is preparing amended charges against two Universal Health Care activists, according to their attorney, Stephen Edwards. The defendants involved in the case expressed shock as this comes after a judge dismissed charges against them stemming from a peaceful sit-in staged at the offices of Aetna in September 2009.
"The judge dismissed the charges and I thought this was over," says co-defendant Joan Pleune. "The DA loses and now he wants a do-over--and to do this he has to manufacture new charges. Does this mean that he can keep making up charges until he gets us for loitering or something?" She added, "We're going to fight it, of course."
During September and October of 2009, 40 people were arrested for participating in sit-ins at the offices of NYC health insurance companies that were denying care to people with life-threatening conditions. Although the DA's office offered to dismiss 39 of the cases with no further action, they chose to pursue charges against Kate Barnhart. Barnhart was joined by Pleune, who rejected the DA's offer so that Barnhart would not face trial alone. The DA's office claims the harsher penalties offered to Barnhart are the result of a conviction from another civil disobedience action in 2003.
On July 19, the judge hearing the case dismissed all charges against both defendants. However, on Friday, July 30, Vance's office informed Stephen Edwards that it would be submitting an amended complaint and charges against Barnhart and Pleune. The DA's office has advised them to turn themselves in for re-arrest.
"We all did the same thing, but Kate got a really bad offer from the DA," says Donald Grove, who was arrested with Barnhart and Pleune. Along with 15 other defendants from the same sit-in, he was offered a conditional dismissal in February.
The actions that took place in New York were part of a larger series of actions, coordinated by Mobilization for Healthcare Now. Over 30 sit ins took place at insurance companies around the USA, in support of a single-payer national health plan that covers everyone.
Mark Milano, who is fighting cancer, believes that pressure on Aetna from the September sit-in resulted in his receiving chemotherapy that he was previously denied. "These activists helped save my life. There's nothing criminal about what they did. The crime is insurance companies withholding care. Why doesn't the DA go after them?"
For more information, contact:
Donald Grove firstname.lastname@example.org
Kate Barnhart 718/300-0133
Joan Pleune 718/855-2581
Steve Quester 718/625-6813