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Trial Opens for Doctor Accused of Interfering with EMTs at Protest

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- An Ann Arbor doctor broke the law when she interfered with police and emergency medical technicians trying to perform their duties, a prosecutor told a Washtenaw County jury Tuesday.

But Catherine Wilkerson s lawyer said she was only trying to help a man she believed was at risk of dying.

The defense and prosecution gave opening statements Tuesday in Wilkerson s trial on two misdemeanor charges of attempting to impede police and emergency medical technicians.

Washtenaw County Assistant Prosecutor Margaret Connors said witnesses will prove that Wilkerson on many occasions failed to comply with the commands of officers and emergency medical technicians as they attempted to perform their state-authorized duties on Nov. 30, 2006.

She was there to incite a crowd of protesters, her friends, said Connors, adding that Wilkerson interfered physically and verbally with police and HVA. In her fervor as an activist, she went above and beyond what she should have done, and broke the law.

Wilkerson s attorney, Wilson Tanner, argued that his client was responding to a man in obvious pain who was moaning that he couldn t breathe and was at risk of restraint asphyxia. He said she believed him to be unconscious after he stopped struggling and went limp, and asked that his handcuffs be removed.

When the emergency medical technicians arrived, he said, Wilkerson made room for them to do their job. But then an HVA supervisor showed up who believed Coleman was faking it, and tried to prove it by using an ammonia inhalant on him.

Tanner said Wilkerson told him to stop; that what he was doing was punitive. He said that when a police officer asked her to leave, he used unnecessary force.

Wilkerson was only protesting the extremely dangerous use of ammonia, he said.

Jeffrey Green, student building manager of the Michigan League, confirmed the prosecution s assertion that Wilkerson was inciting the crowd, and that she was yelling at both police officers and medical technicians that they weren t doing their jobs properly.

But he also said it seemed that one University of Michigan police officer acted too harshly when getting Coleman to the ground.

It didn t seem necessary, said Green, who later said he believed the other officers and HVA staff acted in a professional manner.

The incident happened last Nov. 30 after protesters disrupted a lecture on U.S. foreign policy in Iran at the Michigan League.

The protesters had come to the Michigan League to oppose Raymond Tanter, a professor emeritus at U-M who served on the senior staff of the National Security Council during the Reagan administration.

Protester Coleman was treated that night for a cut to his forehead, which Green testified was bleeding. Coleman, who regularly protests on behalf of the Palestinian cause, was charged with resisting a police officer. He pleaded guilty and was fined $395 and sentenced to probation.

The trial was scheduled to continue today.

Jo Mathis can be reached at jmathis@annarbornews.com or 734-994-6849.

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