Two New York City men arrested for playing chess in a city park have rejected a plea deal with the city and have insisted on going to trial.
Yacahudah Harrison was among six men playing chess at a Parks Department stone table with a chess table built into it on Oct. 20. The table, however, was located inside a children’s section of Inwood Hill Park when police rushed them and issued them summonses for failure to obey park regulations.
On Tuesday, three of the six men agreed to a deal in which they received an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, meaning the matter would be dropped if they avoid run-ins with the law for six months.
But Harrison and another man refused to accept the prosecutor’s offer and opted to head to trial on principle. The sixth man failed to appear in court.
“We did nothing wrong, yet for simply playing chess we were treated like criminals,” Harrison, 49, told the New York Daily News. “Nobody deserves that kind of treatment.”
Their legal gambit could cost them. The trial is set for next week, and if convicted of the charges they could face up to 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000.
“One would think the police department would just make a call and say in retrospect we’re just not going to push this forward,” said civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, who is representing the chess players and declined to identify the second defendant.
Siegel said that the men had been playing chess at the table for a long time before the police targeted them.
“For at least three to six months, if not a couple of years, there was never a problem, and on that given day the police came and they were instructed to give summonses,” Siegel said.
The six men received the order to appear in court after failing to comply with a sign that banned adults from occupying the playground area without a child under the age of 12. Siegel says it is easy to miss the sign.
“When I walked in I didn’t see the sign because the sign is to the north of the entrance,” he said. “It’s possible if you’re coming from the south walking north that you don’t see the sign.”