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Trial in Chasco Fiesta protest incident begins

To avoid detection from law enforcement officers working Chasco Fiesta, Daniel Callaghan put his right arm in a sling, making it appear he had a cast. He was just one of thousands of spectators at the 82nd annual parade through downtown on March 20.

But when the Krewe of Chasco float neared his spot on Circle Boulevard, 62-year-old Callaghan leapt into action. He went past metal barricades lining the street and chained his right arm _ encased in PVC pipe _ to an eyebolt embedded in the road.

And so Callaghan stopped the Krewe's float _ full of people dressed as American Indians _ from continuing and brought the parade to a halt for about five minutes.

Callaghan's plan was to draw attention to what he considers the racist portrayal of Indians by white members of the Krewe, a complaint made by others in the past.

On Wednesday, Callaghan got a chance to tell his side of the story as his trial began at the West Pasco Judicial Center. "It's an acceptance of racism that we wouldn't accept toward any other minority in this community," he testified.

"It's Chief Wahoo in a different form," he added, referring to the mascot of the Cleveland Indians.

Callaghan has been charged with a felony for battery on a law enforcement officer and misdemeanors of disorderly conduct, obstructing a highway and disturbing a lawful assembly. Steadfast in his conviction, the New Port Richey man has rejected the prosecutor's offers for leniency and could serve several years in prison if convicted.

Closing arguments are set to begin this morning.

"There is nothing more American than risking your own freedom for your principles," Callaghan's attorney, Steve Bartlett, said before the trial began. In front of the jury, Bartlett likened the act to the stoic protester standing before a tank in China's Tiananmen Square. Bartlett also evoked Dr. Martin Luther King and Ghandi, who espoused nonviolent protest.

Prosecutor Scott Tremblay portrayed Callaghan's action much differently. He called as witnesses several law enforcement officers who said Callaghan refused their commands to unchain himself, then struggled when they tried to force him. Eventually bolt cutters were used.

Eric Madill of the Florida Highway Patrol said Callaghan jammed the PVC pipe down on his hand, slighting injuring it. "He was doing that intentionally," Madill testified, "because he didn't want us to get in there to unhook anything."

Bartlett suggested the trooper was hurt by his own efforts to remove Callaghan and said his client did not attempt to use his left arm or legs to fend off the officers.

Some of the day's tensest exchanges were between Tremblay and Callaghan, who sells rare books on the Internet. The prosecutor said Callaghan ignored the beliefs of Krewe members, who say they are honoring American Indians, and questions Callaghan's contention that he could not move his arm once chained to the street.

"You want this jury to believe that you chained yourself to the (eyebolt) but could not unhook yourself?" Tremblay said.

"That was pretty much out of my control once the officers were pulling on me," Callaghan replied.