Michiganians have inauguration protest charges dropped

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Charges have been dropped for seven of eight Michigan defendants who were facing potentially decades in prison after taking part last year in an Inauguration Day protest in Washington, D.C.

A new federal indictment notice filed last week over felony rioting charges related to the protest on the day President Donald Trump was sworn into office dropped charges for 129 defendants. The indictment retained 59 people who will still face trials, including one person from Michigan.

The court is “exercising its discretion and moving forward with the prosecution of 59 defendants indicted on felony charges related to the rioting that took place on January 20, 2017, in Washington, D.C.,” said Bill Miller, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, in an email.

Miller said federal prosecutors will dismiss without prejudice the indictment against the remaining 129 defendants “so that it can focus its efforts on this smaller, core group that we believe is most responsible for the destruction and violence that took place on Inauguration Day.”

Supporters of the defendants are calling the dropping of charges a partial victory.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Sam Menefee-Libey, a spokesman for D.C. Legal Posse, a group that supports Inauguration Day protest defendants. “It would be much better if everyone’s charges were dropped or at the least we saw a recognition by the prosecutor of the political nature of the charges.”

Eight Michigan residents were originally awaiting jury trials this summer after participating in what U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff described as a “black-bloc” protest in which demonstrators clad in black and dark clothing demonstrated in the D.C. streets the day Trump was sworn in.

Protesters dragged trash cans and newspaper stands into the streets as well as smashed windows at two Starbucks, a Bank of America and a McDonald’s restaurant, according to court documents. Because most were wearing black or dark colors, many obscuring their faces, a superseding indictment alleged in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia that they acted in unison.

Activists and the American Civil Liberties Union in the District of Columbia called all of the charges political and say they could have a chilling effect on peaceful dissent.

The ACLU of D.C. also alleged in a lawsuit against the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and others that the police used excessively heavy-handed tactics to control the crowd and that an “overwhelming majority” of protesters were peaceful and did not damage property.

A defendant whose charges were dropped said in a statement released by DC Legal Posse that supporters of the defendants will continue to fight the charges.

“The mass dismissal of charges is certainly a victory and means that more than a hundred people no longer have serious felonies and decades in prison hanging over our heads,” said Andy Switzer in a statement. “However, the Trump administration is still aggressively pursuing politically motivated charges against 59 of us and we will continue to work together and fight the government’s attempts to stifle resistance.”