STEUBENVILLE -Several thousand protesters, a host of law enforcement officers, city and county officals, and local and national media turned out for Saturday's Occupy Steubenville Rally outside the Jefferson County Courthourse where, despite some verbal clashes between protesters and authority, the event remained peaceful.
Saturday's rally, the second to protest the fact that more individuals haven't been charged with the alleged rape of an underage girl, and organized by the Internet "hactivist"group Anonymous, drew an estimated 2,000 to 2,400 people - significantly more than a rally held Dec. 29, which attracted about 300 to 400 people.
This weekend's rally came in the wake of a video that surfaced on YouTube.com Wednesday morning that brought national attention to the alleged sexual assault case involving two Steubenville High School athletes and a 16-year-old local girl.
The crime was alleged to have occurred Aug. 11-12. The rape trial is slated to begin Feb. 13 before visiting Judge Tom Lipps.
The 12-and-one-half minute video, presumably shot during the night of the alleged incident, shows a former Steubenville High School student-athlete and others crudely joking about what some contend is the alleged rape. No information on how the video surfaced, the time frame or where it was filmed is known.
Local law enforcement officials have said they were aware of the video and of other possible evidence taken from social media sources. However, all evidence has since been turned over to the Ohio attorney general's office and assigned to two special prosecutors.
Protesters on Saturday held signs in support of the alleged victim, while others targeted local law enforcement officials, particularly Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla, who had made several comments in the media last week criticizing Anonymous for releasing the names of other local youth Anonymous asserts are involved.
Dozens of signs with slogans, such as "I'm Not Anti-Big Red - I'm Anti-Sexual Assault," "Rape is Not a Laughing Matter," "Charge Them All" and "An Eye for an Eye" dotted the landscape in front of the courthouse steps. Others wore Guy Fawkes masks, including one who acted as master of ceremonies. Several chants were started by individuals and quickly taken up by the crowd, including "We want justice," "Rape is not a sport" and "Coach Reno has got to go," referring to Steubenville High School football Coach Reno Saccoccia.
Several in the crowd expressed anger no one else had been charged in the case, while others took the microphone to express their view not enough was being done in the case. Sheriff Abdalla said he supported the public's right to assemble and protest.
"What I'm upset about is (Friday) evening two individuals wearing masks were going door to door looking for where Coach Saccoccia lives. They had their masks on while they were doing that. It's not Halloween. No one should be doing that in a neighborhood with a mask on."
Abdalla continued to criticize Anonymous, adding, "Guilty or innocent - they are attacking everyone. When they start putting names and addresses of (minors) on the Internet -that's not right. People forget these boys are innocent until proven guilty."
Abdalla also said he believed the vast majority of those attending the rally were there for the right reason.
"These are good people," he said. "They believe in the cause. I have a problem with Anonymous."
Debbie Thompson of Steubenville said she was there to stand up for the alleged victim and to speak as a mother.
"I'm here because of my daughter, your daughter - everyone's daughters," she said. "My problem is with the other children who were there (during the alleged incident) and laughed. I don't think they have as good of morals as they should. I understand peer pressure," Thompson continued.
There were several tense moments, as some in the crowd taunted and hurled insults at Abdalla, who stood with sheriff's deputies near the courthouse steps. "I'm not going to stand here and try to convince you I'm not the bad guy," said the sheriff. "You've already made up your minds about that."
Abdalla also said he'd seen the most recent YouTube video of the former Steubenville High School student-athlete for the first time three days ago, but that prosecutors had been aware of the video earlier. He also said the while the video was "disgusting, nauseating and revolting," it wasn't taken at the scene of the alleged rape. He also said while what the individual said was offensive, it had little to do with the case.
"You can't prosecute being stupid," he said.
Prior to the rally, Steubenville City Manager Cathy Davison and other local officials held a news conference to announce the launch of SteubenvilleFacts.org, a Website designed to respond to rumors with facts regarding the investigation into the alleged rape. Joining her at City Hall were 4th Ward Councilwoman Angela Suggs; Jodi Scheetz, director of A.L.I.V.E., which provides shelter to women and children who have been displaced due to domestic violence; and Police Chief Bill McCafferty.