Marijuana Activist Barry Cooper Arrested at Texas State Capitol
Update (below): Barry Cooper is free on $1,000 bond; (in comments) authorities not treating him as suspect in capitol bomb threat
Marijuana activist Barry Cooper turned himself in to authorities Friday morning … and he did it with an expected showman’s flare.
I was notified of his plans last night, but didn’t think he’d actually go this far.
We met at 9 a.m. inside the Starbucks on Congress Ave. in downtown Austin. The first thing I noticed was Barry’s unusual garb. On his forehead, a two word message: “JURY NULLIFICATION”; across his chest in marker ink, a rallying cry: “CONSTITUTIONAL OBEDIENCE”.
After a few minutes of summary and preparation, Cooper, his wife, a cameraman with the local Copwatch chapter and assorted members of the press began making their way down the street toward the state capitol building.
Barry lit a cigarette and took his time to smoke it.
Walking onto the capitol lawn, I noticed an unusual media presence. That’s when we learned the grounds had been shut down since much earlier in the morning due to a bomb threat.
As it would happen, that threat ensured a media circus for Cooper’s arrest. With cameras already in-hand, television reporters swarmed around Barry.
I’m going to say that Cooper’s arrest and the alert were not correlated, but I don’t know that for sure. Barry, Candi and their attorney denied any prior knowledge of the situation and appeared surprised when told about the threat. I believe it was purely fortuitous coincidence, and I don’t think they would do something so foolish like call in a bomb threat to maximize media exposure. They’re in enough trouble already and have kids to worry about.
In spite of the heightened alert, Barry and the media walked right up to the capitol building. Police reopened grounds about 30 minutes later, stating that no suspicious devices were found.
Standing not 20 feet from state troopers, Cooper took a deep breath, pulled out his notes and began to speak.
“I’m here today to turn myself in because I have a warrant for my arrest from the Texas Rangers for a sting that KopBusters did in Odessa, Texas, that successfully released Yolanda Madden from an eight year federal prison sentence. I was explaining to everybody on the walk up here that it feels bad that I only gotta go to jail for one day. I have this kinda support: my lawyer here, and my wife. But Raymond Madden had to walk his daughter this same way to do eight years in prison. My good friend Marc Emery in Canada, two months ago just had to turn his self in for selling marijuana seeds. He turned himself over to the United States government and he’s doing five years in prison.
“It feels horrible to go to jail, and it’s still difficult for me to understand how and why we keep torturing our citizens in the U.S. for non-violent crimes. They say in the Middle East that if you steal something they cut your hand off, and we call that cruel and unusual. We can walk into our prisons right now and line our non-violent prisoners up, that are doing five years, ten years, 99 years, life, for just possessing a substance — and ask them: What would you rather do, continue serving your sentence or we cut your hand off? They will line up at the chopping block and gladly give their hand to get out of those torturous prisons for something that should not be against the law.”
Cooper said his main reason for pulling the media stunt was to raise awareness of jury nullification, a generations-old, rarely used legal tactic available to citizens on a jury who have no sympathy for the government’s argument. Even if the defendant is guilty of the crime with which they are accused, a jury may yet nullify that law as it applies to that individual if they consider it to be immoral.
A recent example of nullification would be the acquittal of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who clearly violated laws meant to prevent assisted suicide but was let off by a jury who found the laws to be repugnant and not correctly applied.
“Americans need to use a very powerful weapon: We’re calling on America to start using what’s called jury nullification [...] when members of a jury vote not guilty, even though the accused clearly broke the law. Juries do this when they believe the law itself is morally wrong or is being unfairly applied. So if you get on a jury and even though you know that person is guilty, if you don’t agree with that law and it bothers your conscience, you can vote not guilty and release that citizen. As a jury member, you have more authority than the judge. That’s the final process in our judicial system, is a jury trial, because it gives the vote back to the citizen.
“Although jury nullification is still legal and still constitutional, most judges and public school teachers lie to the people and tell them they don’t have this right. The jury is made up of we the people. The jury is the only true check on government power. [...] It is the most important right we have as a citizen. [...] Citizens of America, get into juries. On all non-violent drug crimes, vote not guilty and release your citizens.”
He concluded with a signature sign-off: “Peace, love and Never Get Busted.”
Barry then approached officers standing in front of the capitol and informed them of a warrant for his arrest. A few moments later, they ushered him away in handcuffs.
“I’m sorry and sad that humans still treat people like this,” Cooper said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Barry’s wife Candi was arrested earlier in the week outside the family’s home in south Austin after the Texas Rangers tricked her to come outside by claiming her vehicle had been damaged and insurance information would have to be exchanged. The charge stemmed from a sting they pulled on the Odessa Police Department in Dec. 2008, in which they baited officers to raid a phony marijuana grow operation.
Police charged Barry and Candi with Making a False Report to a Peace Officer, a Class B misdemeanor. It is the same charge leveled separately by Williamson County, which raided their former home just north of Austin after Cooper claimed to have caught an officer in Liberty Hill stealing what he’d been tricked to think was drug money.
Shortly after arriving home, I got a call from an unknown number. It was Barry, who decided to use his free phone call to contact me. Speaking from the Travis County jail, Cooper said …
I’m booked into jail. They said I should see a magistrate in a couple hours to set the bond. Odessa could hold me here for 10 days, but they told Candi that as well and that didn’t happen. They’re treating me very good in here. This place is very depressing and all the prisoners I see are depressed. I’m just talking to them and letting them know it’ll be okay. Everybody has treated me very polite and very nice. Tell Candi I love her and that everything is going to be fine.
Here’s a video of the arrest, shot and edited by yours truly …
The whole weird affair was also broadcast live via UStream, which archived the improperly formatted clip.
Update, 6:40 p.m.
Candi just confirmed that Barry has posted bond, which was set at $1,000. Oddly enough, Candi’s bond was set at $2,00 for the same alleged offense, with her arrest coming even before her husband’s.
It was possible that authorities could have kept Cooper for up to 10 days, but his attorneys believed that would not happen, according to Candi.
An earlier version of this update speculated that Cooper could have spent the night in Travis County, but that does not appear likely any longer.
I’d further like to add, upon further recollection and examination, Barry seemed kinda stoned in that video, but he’s told me repeatedly that he refuses to smoke marijuana after what happened with the Williamson County raid. I understand Barry’s appearance was also part of the overall “statement” he was making (Candi’s word), but I didn’t really even think to ask why exactly he didn’t go into this morning’s theatrics with a suit on.
I think I’ll ask about both these items when he gets out, which could be any time now.
Update, 10:45 p.m.
I’ve just spoken with Barry. He is free at this hour and headed somewhere for Margaritas.
When I confronted him about his appearance and asked if he had ingested any narcotics before his arrest, Cooper insisted the weary expression evident in the YouTube clip above was that of exhaustion and not intoxication.
“I’d been up for almost a couple days, man; didn’t really sleep a whole lot after the Rangers arrested Candi,” he said. “That was purely exhaustion, I do not smoke marijuana anymore, not after what Williamson County did to us.”
He added that his appearance — dreadlocks, t-shirt, jeans and tattoos displayed, was in fact intentional, and that his wife had the “suit talk” with him “a million times.”
“I just wanted to show that I’m pretty much like anyone else: an American citizen who is not violent and enjoys being free.”
Barry Cooper is “at large” once again.