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Chasco Fiesta protester found guilty

Daniel Callaghan removed his blazer, tugged at a red necktie, removed his shirt and stuck out his wrists to be handcuffed. The 62-year-old was going to jail. It didn't have to be this way.

Prosecutors offered Callaghan several deals to avoid trial for disrupting the Chasco Fiesta parade on March 20. He rebuffed them all, choosing instead to use the forum to draw attention to what he calls the "racist" portrayal of American Indians by white members of the Krewe of Chasco.

The jury of three men and three women found Callaghan guilty on all four charges, including battery on a law enforcement officer, disorderly conduct, obstructing a highway and disturbing a lawful assembly. Callaghan, a retired Marine who now sells rare books on the Internet, barely reacted to the verdict.

When sentenced by Circuit Judge Michael F. Andrews next month, Callaghan could be given more than six years in prison.

"He risked everything so he could have the right to stand up for what he believes in," defense attorney Steve Bartlett said. "You have to admire him for that."

The incident began as the Krewe of Chasco float approached Callaghan's spot on Circle Boulevard in downtown New Port Richey. Callaghan wrapped a chain around his right arm and stuffed the arm in a PVC pipe. He ran into the street, kneeled down and secured the chain to a hook he had previously placed in the road.

For five minutes, the krewe's float _ teaming with people dressed as Indians _ and the rest of the parade came to a halt. The prosecution said Callaghan ignored orders to leave the street and then struggled with officers, at one point using his free arm to smash the pipe down on a Florida Highway Patrol trooper's hand.

Bartlett attacked that assertion repeatedly during the two-day trial. He said any injury was accidental and caused by the forcible actions of the officers. Callaghan parroted that defense and insisted violence was the antithesis of civil disobedience.

Prosecutor Scott Tremblay largely avoided the political overtones of the trial, sticking close to the charges and their legal definitions. Jurors, he said, had to determine if Callaghan used the PVC pipe to strike the trooper and whether he disrupted the public event, not whether the krewe engaged in racial stereotyping.

"The only scar left is the scar on Trooper (Eric) Madill's hand," Tremblay said, improvising on Bartlett's argument that American Indians have been wounded by the continued misappropriation of their culture.

Bartlett, who said an appeal will be filed, said Callaghan had tried various means to stop the krewe, including talking with members of the group and seeking an injunction. Only after that failed, Bartlett said, did Callaghan hatch the plan to derail the parade.

The stunt was designed to uphold public morality, Bartlett argued, by calling attention to an offensive display. The jury apparently thought otherwise.

Asked if the conviction were a setback to efforts to protest the krewe, Bartlett said his client's actions would eventually be seen as just, not unlike those of other historical defenders of civil rights.

Hopefully people will learn about the plight of American Indians and know there is racism in this parade, even if it isn't intentional, Bartlett said.

Jim Wright, a friend of Callaghan's who testified at the trial, said the outcome could have a negative side. "It makes him more of a martyr, but now we could lose a leader," Wright said. "He is the strongest believer in all of this."

Though Callaghan is facing a possible prison term, prosecutors could ask Judge Andrews for something less severe, and the judge could grant leniency on his own. Callaghan was in jail Thursday night with bail set at $30,000.

He is due back in court Oct. 26 for sentencing.

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