Pelted!

When an animal rights activist came up against Neiman Marcus, she had more than some dead fur to contend with

When she was finally hooked up to the lie detector, she was asked the same questions she'd just answered. Detective Latonya Kennedy, the DPD officer investigating the assault, watched through a window. After the test was over, the examiner told Nichols to sit in the lobby. Kennedy emerged, and according to Nichols, said, "From the test, we believe you're being deceitful."

Nichols threw a fit. "How dare you call me deceitful when I didn't lie! Screw you!" She then stomped out of the police station. Although Goodwin says he later phoned to volunteer for a lie detector test himself, the police weren't interested.

On November 21, the case was presented to a Dallas County grand jury, a procedure generally reserved for felonies rather than the misdemeanor assault with which Rodney Lewis was charged. As Nichols sat alone in the witness room--with no lawyer or boyfriend beside her--she had no idea what she was about to face. Most of the questions, she says, were not directed at the events of September 27, 1997. The grand jury, instead, asked a lot about the organization she heads, Animal Liberation of Texas, and the one Goodwin leads, Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade. The jurors wanted to know if there was any connection between those groups and the Animal Liberation Front, the controversial organization that crosses the line from civil disobedience to criminal violence.

They asked her about Utah, where earlier in the year an activist firebombed a fur-breeding co-op, sparking a blaze that burned for five hours and did more than $1 million in damage. They read to her some explosive rhetoric pulled from her newsletters and Goodwin's website. They pointed out that she and her boyfriend have encouraged support for everything from spray-paint vandalism to illegal mink emancipations to window smashing. And they wanted to know why CAFT published the communique from the person claiming responsibility for the Utah firebombing. To Nichols, it seemed clear that the grand jury was investigating her, not any criminal case where she was the victim.

As Nichols remembers it, one grand juror said, "You look like you're fine now." She was asked about being arrested at demonstrations against Macy's in 1996, and about initially refusing medical attention after the altercation with Lewis. ("I was worried about my car in the middle of the road because J.P. can't drive a stick," she explains.) And one person, she says, asked her, "Did you fail a lie detector test?"

"Yes, but..."
No further questions.
The hostile examination continued for about an hour. None of the DART-stop witnesses were present. Police said they couldn't find them or that they refused to cooperate and give affidavits. But one of the witnesses, Terrence Duty, a fraud investigator for a credit card company, tells a different story. A female detective did contact him a couple days after the incident, he says, and asked him to give a statement. But he and the detective had a scheduling conflict, and that was the last he heard from her. Duty, speaking from the lobby of the office building where he works--just four blocks away from DPD headquarters--says he and the other witnesses were all concerned about the woman. "He was smacking the shit out of her. She was a helpless female. He kicked her and he pushed her and he was on top of her. It was clear from where we were standing."

The arresting officers were not there to testify. Lewis ended up getting no-billed, meaning at least nine of the 12 grand jurors agreed there wasn't probable cause to send him to trial for sending Nichols to the hospital.

One week after the grand jury hearing, Nichols was arrested outside Neiman Marcus at an event called Fur Free Friday. She was serving as the local coordinator for the annual nationwide anti-fur protest on the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year. Neiman's was the main target--in Dallas and around the United States. This time, plenty of protesters showed up--nearly 50 men and women carrying signs and banners and chanting through megaphones. "Forty dead animals, one fur coat!...How'd you kill your fur today? Gassing, trapping, anal electrocution!"

About 20 minutes into the protest, a van pulled up, and five ALT members jumped out, locking their arms together in metal pipes that were secured with chains. They created a human barricade in front of the Neiman's entrance. More than a dozen cops showed up within minutes. Police tried for nearly an hour to figure out how to undue the pipe contraption before picking up the entire line of people and sliding them away from the door--stirring the other protesters into a vocal frenzy.

That's when Nichols and Goodwin say they got nabbed from behind--placed under arrest, they would later be told, for interfering with a police officer. As Goodwin was seized by an officer, he used a civil disobedience tactic that he learned at a workshop in 1995, and went limp as officers tried to carry him away. He says the police threw him to the ground and stepped on his face as they handcuffed him--and he was later treated at the jail hospital for scrapes and bruises. A video of the protest shows Nichols being grabbed by an officer, then dragged on the sidewalk as she screams for help.

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