Notable Anti-Drone Activist and Grandmother Sentenced to Prison for Photographing Protest
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This story originally appeared in The Ithaca Voice.
Gasps filled the courtroom when the sentence for drones protester Mary Anne Grady Flores was announced last Thursday.
An onlooker let out an astounded, “No!” Someone else whistled in disbelief. Others looked away.
Grady Flores, of Ithaca, pursed her lips and slowly nodded her head. The judge read aloud the rest of the sentence — one year in jail, the maximum punishment possible for violating an order of protection. The lawyers for each side made a few more requests.
Then it was time for Grady Flores, 58, to be taken away. Some of her supporters started crying. They began singing a Christian peace song.
The handcuffed grandmother of three was escorted out by a sheriff’s deputy. Right before they disappeared into a back-room, Grady Flores turned to her friends and family.
She was smiling.
A controversial order
Grady Flores had been told to stay away from Col. Earl Evans, the mission support group commander at the 174th Attack Wing of the New York Air National Guard.
She was also not supposed to go to either his home or the place he works: The Hancock Field Air National Guard Base near Syracuse.
The court “order of protection” had been given to Grady Flores after she participated in a demonstration outside the base in October 2012. A few dozen protesters, who have held several rallies at the base to decry the use of drones in overseas operations, were hit with the order.
The New York Courts say an order or protection is issued “to limit the behavior of someone who harms or threatens to harm another person.”
But the protesters say they have struggled to make sense of how it applies to them: What had they done to be considered a threat? And why did the leader of a powerful military operation need protection from mostly elderly, non-violent protesters?
“I’m 64, and I was one of the youngest ones,” said James Ricks of the demonstrators, who include senior citizens reliant on walkers and canes. “They know that we’re not a threat.”
Equally confounding, the protesters said, was that none of them had met the person they were supposed to stay away from.
“A lot of us were saying, ‘If he walked up to me in the street, I wouldn’t even know the man,’ ” Ricks said.
The order of protection was even overturned in the case of Daniel Finlay, 73 — one of the protesters — by an Onondaga County judge who called it flawed and a violation of habeas corpus, according to The Syracuse Post-Standard.
Whatever its merits, and for whatever reason, the order stood for Grady Flores. So when she was again arrested in February 2013, she faced the charge of second-degree criminal contempt — which carried the possibility of up to a year in jail.
When the trial started, Ricks said, he didn’t think it would be possible for Grady Flores to get the full year-long sentence.
“I thought maybe two months, maybe four,” Ricks said, “and then I thought, ‘Maybe he’ll make an example and slam her.’”
Prosecutors and Judge David Gideon have defended the one-year sentence, saying that they had no other way to punish someone who repeatedly broke the law.
Doing so was necessary to show that the court would “no longer tolerate her willful actions in violation of the orders of this court,” Judge Gideon wrote in a decision explaining the sentencing.