Protester convicted of trespassing is cleared of violating probation

November 29, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A peace activist convicted for a December 1991 protest at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory near Columbia was cleared of charges yesterday of failing to complete court-ordered community service.

George Michael Ostensen, 40, was cleared of violating his probation after he told Howard District Judge Lenore Gelfman that he had done volunteer work to assist homeless people in Baltimore for years.

"I do it not because it's an obligation, but because I feel it's the correct thing to do," said Mr. Ostensen, a member of the Baltimore Emergency Response Network (BERN).

Meanwhile, another BERN member -- Gregory Irwin Boertje-Obed, 39, of Baltimore -- was arrested on a trespassing charge during a protest at the Applied Physics Laboratory yesterday morning, Howard County police said.

Mr. Boertje-Obed was among nine activists passing out leaflets protesting the lab's research as well as Mr. Ostensen's charge for the probation violation, police said. Police said he was the only one of the group who refused to leave the property when asked by authorities.

Mr. Ostensen of the first block of S. Washington St. in Baltimore had been ordered by Judge Gelfman in July 1992 to complete 40 hours of community service during a year of probation.

He had been given the sentence after his conviction on a trespassing charge for a protest at the lab Dec. 5, 1991.

But Mr. Ostensen never completed the community service nor reported to his probation agent, court records say. The agent tried to reach him, but Mr. Ostensen did not provide a current address.

At yesterday's hearing, Mr. Ostensen could have been ordered to complete his probation, sentenced to up to three months in jail and ordered to pay up to $500 in fines.

Mr. Ostensen -- arrested twice on trespassing charges for protests at the lab since his initial conviction -- reminded Judge Gelfman that when he was sentenced he told her that he would not comply with the terms of his probation.

He noted that he had refused to sign probation documents -- as part of his protest of the weapons research.

Judge Gelfman, while acknowledging Mr. Ostensen's right to protest, told him the court must enforce its rules to avoid anarchy. She then asked Mr. Ostensen why he did not complete community service, which gave him the chance to help others.

"I do a lot of community service," Mr. Ostensen responded. "I consider protesting at APL community service itself."

Mr. Ostensen added that he has volunteered at Baltimore soup kitchens for more than five years. He said he distributes food to homeless people and delivers food to the kitchens.

Upon learning this, Judge Gelfman cleared Mr. Ostensen of the probation violation.

"I am not going to hold you in violation," the judge said. "You are free to go."

Mr. Ostensen then left the courtroom, to the applause of about a half-dozen supporters and fellow activists.

BERN regularly protests weapons research at the Applied Physics Laboratory, south of the intersection of U.S. 29 and Route 32. The group contends that the lab's research for laser weapons and missiles violates international law.

Mr. Ostensen is to appear in District Court for a trial March 16 on a trespassing charge for a lab protest last month.

He is one of five activists arrested for handing out leaflets protesting the facility's research and for allegedly refusing to leave the grounds when requested to by laboratory officials, police said.

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