Lawyer Observing Phoenix Protests Arrested

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Sunita Patel, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, flew in from New York to provide legal support to a civil disobedience protest against SB 1070 at a downtown Phoenix jail. In an unlikely switch, Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies arrested her and took her to the Third Avenue jail.

Patel was working with local attorney Antonio Bustamante and a team of 30 volunteer lawyers.

Up until this point, the non-violent action went according to plan. More than 300 protesters surrounded the jail. One row of protesters stood to block its metal gates. They stood connected with their arms inserted into cardboard poster tubes that read “No to SB1070.” Another row of protestors sat on the floor, arms interlocked.

Activist Sandra Castro, shouting from a bullhorn, warned protestors, “In three minutes, they are going to start arresting people here. If you do not want to get arrested, move away.”

Then the gates opened. An army of 100 sheriff’s deputies stood in line formation with full riot gear. Ten moved forward, and began plucking away the dozen people who intended to get arrested.

Another line of deputies then moved forward, using their plastic shields to peacefully move protesters and media away from the jail perimeter.

After another half hour, they came back out and conducted more arrests of the people who gathered again to block the gates.

Patel was there the entire time as a legal observer, with a hat and T-shirt that denoted her role. “She didn’t intend to get arrested,” attorney Bustamante says, “I don’t know why it happened. Maybe because they can’t read.”

Her husband Chandra Bhatnagar, also a lawyer in New York, says, “It’s a little bit crazy. She was just doing her job.”

Vince Warren, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says the group is now looking into the matter. He didn’t want to comment until he spoke with local lawyers about the facts.

Patel should appear at the Initial Appearance Court tonight, alongside the other arrestees she planned to help represent.

Upon request for comment about the lawyer’s arrest, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office receptionist declined to transfer the press call to media relations staffer Brian Lee. “We’re just too swamped for me to transfer you,” she explained before hanging up the phone.

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