More than 200 people who protested during President Donald Trump’s inauguration were rounded up by police and dozens faced felony charges. (Photo: Elvert Barnes/Flickr/cc)
The developments followed revelations that the government lied about evidence—but that wasn’t enough to delay closing arguments for one group of defendants.
By Jessica Corbett / 05.31.2018
In a series of victories for civil disobedience rights on Thursday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) dropped charges and dismissed several cases against people involved with the #DisruptJ20 march during President Donald Trump’s inauguration, and a federal judge sanctioned prosecutors for lying about evidence.
As Common Dreams has reported, last year “more than 200 anti-Trump demonstrators, legal observers, and journalists were ‘indiscriminately‘ swept up in mass arrests carried out during inauguration protests.”
Although a jury found the first group of protesters not guilty of all charges in December, federal prosecutors have continued pursuing cases against 59 of the rounded-up demonstrators—trying them in groups, seeking to imprison them for decades on felony charges, and relying heavily on recordings by the right-wing activist group Project Veritas.
Following a revelation last week that “prosecutors suppressed potentially exculpatory evidence,” known as a Brady violation, it was revealed in an overnight filing by defense attorneys that the government concealed 69 Project Veritas audio and video files and altered other recordings.
This is prosecutorial misconduct plain and simple. The @USAO_DC has repeatedly abused its power in a quest to lock people up for exercising their First Amendment rights on Inauguration Day. #J20 https://t.co/JaIxLbG6uh
— ACLU of DC (@ACLU_DC) May 31, 2018
In response to the new Brady violations, at a pre-trial hearing on Thursday, Superior Court Judge Robert Morin dismissed conspiracy charges with prejudice—meaning that they cannot be refiled—but dismissed lesser charges without prejudice, meaning the government can still pursue those, according to reporters from the Huffington Post and Unicorn Riot.
Judge Morin dismissed felony charges with prejudice against several #j20 defendants, finding government Brady violations in handling of Project Veritas videos.
“I do think it’s a serious violation,” Morin said, adding government’s conduct was “not explainable to the court.”
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) May 31, 2018
The USAO has dropped felony charges against those in the May 29 trial group—the third group of J20 protesters—and all charges against those in the June 4 group.
However, the revelations about prosecutors concealing evidence and Morin’s subsequent ruling have not yet impacted the second trial group. During Morin’s hearing on Thursday, closing arguments for the May 14 trial group were taking place on another floor of the same courthouse.
Reporters were quick to point out that prosecutors used the same evidence that led to Morin’s sanctions to build a case against the May 14 group. If anyone from the second group is found guilty, appeals are expected to cite the new findings.