Charges against some ‘straight pride’ protesters move ahead

Philip Marcelo
Associated Press

Boston – A Massachusetts judge has decided to move forward with charges against several counterprotesters arrested during a “straight pride” parade in Boston this past weekend, despite requests from the district attorney to dismiss the cases.

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office asked Tuesday for the dismissal of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges against some defendants in exchange for community service, but Boston Municipal Judge Richard Sinnott denied the requests in seven instances.

Milo Yiannopoulos address the crowd during the Straight Pride Parade in Boston, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. Several dozen marchers and about as many counter-demonstrators have gathered in Boston for a "straight pride" parade. The organizers say they believe straight people are an oppressed majority.

District Attorney Rachael Rollins said Sinnott overstepped his role and promised to pursue other legal remedies to get the charges dropped.

“By compelling arraignment in every case, the judge punished the exercise of individuals’ First Amendment right to protest,” she said in a statement late Tuesday. “For those people now tangled in the criminal justice system for exercising their right to free speech – many of whom had no prior criminal record – I will use the legal process to remedy the judge’s overstepping of his role.”

Rollins didn’t elaborate, and a spokeswoman did not comment Wednesday. Sinnott declined to comment via a court spokeswoman.

A labor union representing Boston police officers cheered the decision.

The Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association had called for the prosecutions of everyone arrested at the parade after, it says, officers were pelted with rocks, bottles of urine and other unidentified materials as the parade wound down, injuring at least four officers. It wasn’t clear how many parade participants versus counterprotesters were arrested, if any.

“We think that these offenders, most of them not residents of Boston, came here as agitators,” Lawrence Calderone, the union’s vice president told The Boston Globe. They came here to “create havoc, not only for the Police Department but for the visitors that are in downtown Boston trying to enjoy the last weekend of the summer,” he said.

Counterprotesters, including one wearing a horse mask, line the route of the Straight Pride Parade in Boston, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019.

Mayor Marty Walsh said the police department is also looking into complaints of police misconduct, including the use of pepper spray on counterprotesters.

The court spat is the latest tussle between Boston’s liberal prosecutor and the state’s judicial and law enforcement community.

Shortly after being elected in November, Rollins, a Democrat, listed 15 nonviolent offenses her office would no longer prosecute, including drug possession, shoplifting and trespassing, because they lead to high incarceration rates among minorities.

The memo drew criticism from Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration, which said the approach could undermine efforts to address the national opioid epidemic and put some crime victims at risk.

Rollins also joined advocates for immigrants and another Massachusetts district attorney in successfully suing to prevent federal immigration agents from carrying out civil arrests in state courthouses.

All told, 36 people are due in court this week following Saturday’s parade , which was organized by a group calling itself “Super Happy Fun America” as a counterpoint to gay pride festivals.

The mile-long parade drew a few hundred participants and hundreds more counterprotesters. It featured floats supporting President Donald Trump and prominent gay conservative Milo Yiannopoulos as parade grand marshal.

While her office moved to drop charges against some of the protesters, Rollins stressed that she is still pursuing charges against others facing for more serious offenses.

Three men arraigned Tuesday on charges of assault and battery on a police officer were told by a judge not to set foot again in Boston except for required court appearances, or else face jail time.

“Make no mistake: some people were appropriately arraigned and will be held accountable for actions that put the safety of the public and law enforcement at risk,” Rollins said in her statement.