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Charges dropped for Arizona RNC protestor

NY Newsday | April 14, 2005
BY KAREN FREIFELD

In the latest example of a wrongful arrest from the Republican National Convention, charges are expected to be dismissed against an Arizona man accused of setting a paper-mache dragon float on fire during a protest. The turn-about was prompted by a videotape and photographs disputing an undercover officer's identification of Yusuke Banno as the culprit.

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"I feel like I'm waking up from a terrible nightmare," Banno, 21, said in a telephone interview Thursday. "It's absolutely wonderful."

Banno, a Tuscon resident who has been in New York for the past month awaiting trial, has insisted on his innocence since his arrest on Aug. 29. He was also charged with assaulting Officer John Park, who burned his hand on the float.

Earlier this week, Assistant District Attorney Robert Ferrari announced in court that the undercover officer had misidentified Banno.

Yesterday, Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney, said she expected the charges to be dismissed. She did not identify the officer.

Banno's lawyer, Sabrina Shroff, said yesterday that she turned the videotape over to prosecutors in October, but it wasn't until viewing still photographs that the district attorney's office seemed to take the images seriously.

The photos show the fire began on the left of the 70-foot dragon's head, while Banno was on the right of the dragon's tail, Shroff said. The photos also show Banno wearing different clothing than the person who may have set the fire, she said, adding that Banno was "standing miles away."

The expected dismissal of charges against Banno comes the same week that five others arrested in the dragon protest received adjournments in contemplation of dismissal.

Four others pleaded guilty to obstructing governental administration months ago and were sentenced to time served. Two cases are pending and one defendant didn't return to court.

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