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Trial begins for Andy Lopez protester (w/ video)

  • Andy Lopez activist Ramon Cairo attempts to enter the City Council chambers at City Hall in Santa Rosa on Dec. 10, 2013. Cairo was later arrested by Santa Rosa Police. (CHRISTOPHER CHUNG/Press Democrat)

Trial kicked off Thursday for the first of several people arrested during protests of the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy.

Ramon Cairo, 31, of Santa Rosa, is being tried on misdemeanor charges connected to a Dec. 10 City Hall demonstration in which police said he hit two officers with a protest sign while trying to force his way inside.

One was struck on the forehead with the sign resembling a wooden cross while the other was hit in the cheek, officers testified.

It happened while Cairo was at the center of a “powder keg” of about 100 demonstrators who converged on a City Council meeting, prosecutor Chris Brown told jurors in opening statements.

Cairo became aggressive when officers told him and 55 others carrying the crosses to put them down before they could enter, he said.

Instead, Cairo began pushing and shoving police and eventually swung the sign at them, officers testified.

But Cairo's lawyer, Izaak Schwaiger, denied that was what happened. He said Cairo was part of a non-violent demonstration hoping to call attention to 56 officer-involved deaths in Sonoma County, including last year's Lopez killing.

Cairo tried to enter the public building when he was stopped by police. He said Cairo was targeted because he is a protest leader and because he's been openly critical of District Attorney Jill Ravitch, who is charged with deciding whether the deputy who killed Lopez, Erick Gelhaus, committed a crime.

“This is a case about the criminalization of political dissent,” Schwaiger said.

The matter could become clarified by a video both sides are expected to show Friday that captures parts of the protest, which drew a police SWAT team and sheriff's helicopter.

The nearly 12-minute video depicts Cairo and other demonstrators assembling with wooden crosses in front of City Hall and marching silently to the door. A fight breaks out when police stop them from entering.

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