Three out-of-state men arrested in a Bridgeport apartment raid days before the NATO summit were charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism, providing material support for terrorism and possession of an explosive or incendiary device, their attorney and police said early Saturday.
The arrests were the result of a month-long investigation into a group suspected of making Molotov cocktails — crude bombs usually created by filling glass bottles with gasoline, according to law enforcement sources and police records obtained by the Tribune.
But the National Lawyers Guild, which is representing the men, said they were simply NATO protesters who had beer-making equipment when the apartment they were staying at was raided overnight Wednesday.
The men also were in a car that was stopped by police a week ago, leading to a YouTube video of the stop that has prompted protesters to complain Chicago Police were harassing the occupants, said Sarah Gelsomino, a lawyer with the guild.
She called the charges "an attempt to continue this intimidation campaign on activists. Charging these people who are here to peacefully protest against NATO for terrorism, when in reality the police have been terrorizing activists in Chicago, is absolutely outrageous."
The three men being held at the Harrison District police station were charged late Friday night and were scheduled to appear in bond court Saturday afternoon, said Chicago police Lt. Kenneth Stoppa. He identified them as Brian Church, 20, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Jared Chase, 24, of Keene, N.H., and Brent Vincent Betterly, 24, of Oakland Park, Fla.
Chase's uncle, Michael Chase of Westmoreland, N.H., said he was shocked to learn of the charges against his nephew, who he said quit his job as a cook at a Boston restaurant in the fall to join the Occupy movement.
"He can be confrontational," Chase said of his nephew. "If he's pressed, he tends to lash out. I really can't envision him doing this on his own, coming up with an idea to do something that radical."
Police earlier Friday released from custody — without charging — six of the nine people who were swept up in the late-night Wednesday raid of a Bridgeport apartment building. Several are affiliated with the Occupy movement and had arrived in Chicago in recent weeks from California, North Carolina, Massachusetts and elsewhere.
Details of the investigation remain murky. Police and Cook County prosecutors have declined to publicly discuss or even acknowledge the arrests in the 1000 block of West 32nd Street even as the conduct of officers has come under criticism from those involved in the raid.
Witnesses described police officers armed with battering rams and guns drawn swarming into the building, conducting warrantless searches and refusing to tell them what was going on. However, court records show that Cook County Judge Dennis Porter signed a search warrant Wednesday night.
Adding to the mystery, two other individuals were detained in separate arrests Thursday. A 24-year-old man was arrested at his Northwest Side home for allegedly conspiring to build Molotov cocktails, while a 28-year-old West Side man, who is on probation for a 2011 conviction for the aggravated battery of a police officer, was arrested for allegedly attempting to possess an explosive device, according to sources and police records.
Darrin Annussek, 36, one of those released Friday, said he was handcuffed and shackled for 18 hours in an "interrogation room."
Hours before the charges were announced, two of the other six men were released from the police station without charges.
One of them, identifying himself as Robert LaMorte, 21, of South Carolina, said he had been in Chicago for less than an hour when he was arrested. He said he was never told what he was being held for and that police simply released him with little comment.
He said he had hitchhiked from New York to Gary and received a ride from a friend to Chicago. He was staying at the Bridgeport apartment with friends who were protesters, he said. He said he was never told what he was held for.
Following his release, LaMorte, 21, said "I'm leaving here first chance I get. I don’t want to deal with any more problems."
Before the other three men were charged, a group of about 40 supporters held an hours-long vigil outside the police station, sometimes singing in an attempt to cheer up the men inside.
Only about 15 were still outside when Gelsomino came out of the station and told them about the charges. They soon left.