Dozens turn out in support of Carbondale man who’s tied up in odd municipal court case
It’s not often that a small-town municipal court case draws protesters, but an otherwise fairly routine hearing Monday night before the Carbondale town judge did just that.
Municipal court is typically reserved for petty offenses and the lowest-level misdemeanors, the latter of which is the case involving Michael Francisco of Carbondale.
But many questions have been raised in the community about Francisco’s Christmas Eve 2020 arrest at the local City Market store after what’s been described as a finger-pointing incident — the intent of which his attorney says wasn’t threatening in any way.
There’s also the matter of Francisco’s skin color. He is Black.
And his head dress — he wears a rasta cap known as a “tam,” with his long dreadlocks tucked underneath. Francisco, 54, has a popular Reggae show on local radio station KDNK on Sundays.
“I do feel that, because of a person’s skin color or hair style, that sometimes judgments are made by people,” said Diana Alcantara, one of the many protesters who showed up outside Carbondale Town Hall in support of Francisco.
She and others carried signs reading, “Drop the Charges.”
Someone’s personal appearance can cause a “flash judgment,” she said. “I’ve done it, too. … We tend to jump right to being irrational, unless we have tools to calm ourselves down and stay open.”
The hearing inside Town Hall itself was pretty routine, but only 25 spectators and others on the evening docket were allowed in due to COVID-19 restrictions. Another 40 or so people mingled in the hallway or outside in a collective show of support.
Francisco came into what was the third hearing in the case still facing misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and obstruction.
His attorney, Michael Edminister, attempted to convince Municipal Court Judge John Collins and town prosecuting attorney Angela Roff that the charges should be dismissed.
“We believe there is sufficient information here to dismiss the charges,” Edminister said during the hearing.
Roff did not respond to Edminister’s suggestion, and the exchange turned toward several technical matters, including video surveillance and audio files that Edminister said he received from Roff but could not open.
For now, the case remains in the discovery stage, with certain evidence still forthcoming from City Market, including witness statements, internal reports and store policy around such incidents.
Francisco did not make any statements during the hearing. The attorneys agreed to a continuance in the case until April 12, and a plea has not yet been entered by Francisco.
The charges stem from an incident the evening of Dec. 24, 2020 at the Carbondale City Market, in which police contacted and arrested Francisco after a report from a fuel station attendant who said Francisco had pointed at her and made what she said was an “angry” facial expression upon leaving the gas station and entering the store. She indicated he may be a threat.
According to Edminister’s reading of the police account, instead of immediately presenting his driver’s license when asked by police to do so, Francisco questioned why he was being contacted by the police and things got heated.
“Before he knew it he was on the floor and handcuffed and dragged out of the store … a pretty excessive show of force for a guy who was just checking out with a couple of groceries,” Edminister said in an earlier interview with the Post Independent.
In that same interview, Edminister also questioned why the case is before the Carbondale Municipal Court, rather than being heard by Garfield County Judge Paul Metzger, where most misdemeanor cases go.
Some who showed up Monday in support of Francisco said it appears to them that the police may have overreacted.
“Michael is a very peaceful, amazing human being, and I’m hoping that he gets his truth told,” said Drea Marsh, a fellow KDNK DJ who for many years handed off the on-air mic to Francisco every week.
“If (the police) had the knowledge of who this person is in our community, maybe they would have made a different choice,” she said. “The force that was used on somebody in the middle of checking out with their groceries is upsetting.”
“It seemed a little extreme for a 10-year resident of Carbondale, who I see often walking on Main Street and who’s on the radio. He’s not completely unknown.
“It just seems people immediately went to a high level of alert for no good reason,” she said. “It’s no one’s fault, but we have to own it … especially in these times right now. … It’s time for us to just calm down, make apologies when needed and do some deep work to heal.”
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