<CLAYTON, MO –(KMOX)–A jury hears different versions about who threw the first punch in the trial of two union activists accused of beating up another man at a health care reform meeting.
Alleged beating victim Kenneth Gladney testified that he was displaying Don’t Tread on Me flags and conservative buttons, when he was attacked by two members of the Service Employees International Union outside an August 2009, Russ Carnahan town hall forum.
Gladney told the jury that SEIU member Elston McCowan hit him first, because McCowan — who is black — didn’t like a black man pushing conservative buttons.
The defense attorney for McCowan and co-defendant Perry Molens told the jury that evidence will show it was Gladney who threw the first blow, turning what had been angry words from McCowan over a button bashing President Obama into a physical fight.
The jury will hear from several witnesses and watch video tape which shows a portion of the fight, but not how the fight started.
The case gained national attention in 2009, when it was alleged that SEIU members had orders from higher up to squash what had been growing Tea Party opposition to the Obama health care reform plan.
During jury selection, both the defense and prosecution sifted the jury to eliminate anyone with strong feelings about labor unions or the Tea Party. Defense Attorney Paul D’Agrosa also hinted at his strategy, telling the jury that assault can be lawful, if committed in self-defense.
If convicted, McCowan and Molens face up to a year in prison and up to a $1,000 fine.
Gladney wore a neck brace to the witness stand, which he testified was unrelated to his injuries from the 2009 fight.
McCowan wore a crisp blue suit, white shirt and blue and red striped tie. Molens appeared in court sporting a black, short-sleeved shirt with no tie, white pants, casual shoes and shoulder length hair.
When Gladney was on the witness stand, facing blistering cross examination from D’Agrosa, McCowan could be seen laughing and smiling, and holding a hand over his face to shield his feelings from the jury.