SOA Watch protesters get six months in jail

Two activists were found guilty of illegal trespass Jan. 5 for acts of civil disobedience during last November’s School of the Americas Watch vigil and protest at the Fort Benning military complex in Columbus, Ga.

Nancy Smith and Chris Spicer were sentenced to six-month prison terms by U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Hyles in Columbus and were immediately taken into custody.

“The trial shows that there was a lot of desire by the government and the courts to reach any kind of guilty verdict by any means possible,” SOA Watch organizer Nico Udu-gama told NCR Jan 5.

“Even though it was a first time crossing for both, the judge decided to go for the maximum sentence. That just exposes the whole political nature of this thing,” Udu-gama said.

Smith was arrested Nov. 20 for walking onto the grounds of the U.S. Army base. Spicer was arrested Nov. 21 for climbing over the barbed wire fence located at the base’s main entrance (NCR, Dec. 10).

Spicer pleaded “not guilty” to the charges of trespass. Smith pleaded “no contest.”

They both join two other activists, Franciscan Fr. Louis Vitale and Michael David Omondi, who are already in jail for similar actions during the 2010 SOA vigil.

On Nov. 23, Hyles sentenced Vitale and Omondi to six-month prison terms. They have been in jail since.

Omondi, a member of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker community, raised some concerns among friends and family in December. One of the letters he wrote while incarcerated at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Ga., described an incident in which he was physically assaulted by another inmate and then held in solitary confinement for protection.

“We faced the threat of microwave-heated detergent being poured on our skin, and I was temporarily headlocked, while he [the inmate] continuously challenged me to fight for my friend and possessions,” he wrote in the letter.

Omondi has since been moved to the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta.

“It’s quite disturbing,” said Udu-gama when asked of Omondi’s situation. “We’ve been in contact with him and we helped as best we could.”

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here