Trumped Up Charges: Journalist Aaron Cantu Faces 75 Years After Covering Inauguration Day

Christine Beswick

A staff journalist for the Santa Fe Reporter, Aaron Cantu, is facing up to 75 years jail time on what many are referring to as trumped up charges that occurred on Inauguration Day in Washington D.C.

Cantu is not the only one. CNN reported that a group known as Defend J20 is supporting over 200 journalists and citizens that were arrested on Inauguration Day.

Many of the journalists arrested that day have had their charges dismissed. Aaron Cantu was arraigned on Friday on felony indictment charges, and could face up to 75 years in jail if convicted. They are charges that many have been deemed political.

There is no public evidence available that suggests Aaron Cantu was participating in felony riots, as he has been accused of. Although much damage did occur in Washington D.C. on Inauguration Day, Cantu was covering the protests and not participating in them.

He is part of a group of more than 200 people that are being charged on felony indictments for being in the middle of protests on Inauguration Day.

The Daily Beast showed a contrast in federal arrests that occurred that day. Once again, the Mayflower Hotel is getting negative press since the inauguration of Donald Trump. The Mayflower Hotel was the location for a meeting held in April 2016, attended by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump, as well as Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

But on Inauguration Day, the Mayflower Hotel was the home of a reported sexual assault by John Boswell upon a member of the housekeeping staff. The Daily Beast noted that millionaire Trump supporter John Boswell was arrested after a member of the housekeeping staff made a sexual assault complaint.

Boswell has since plead guilty to the charge, and has been released and will serve no jail time. But Aaron Cantu, has a long legal battle ahead and could do some serious jail time for covering Inauguration Day protests.

CNN reported that Aaron Cantu was arraigned on Friday in Washington D.C. by United States Attorney Channing Phillips. He is facing eight charges, including two felony counts of violations against the Riot Act.

PEN America reported that he is facing federal charges of inciting a riot, rioting, conspiracy to riot, and five counts of property destruction. If convicted on all charges with consecutive sentencing he faces up to 75 years in prison.

A total of 217 people were arrested at the same time as Cantu, in a process that has been described as "kettling." In that process, citizens arrested were all herded into one location and were not permitted to leave. They were arrested "en masse" reported PEN America. Protests happened all over Washington on Inauguration Day.

The Daily Beast described the kettling procedure as 200-plus people being detained on the street and herded into one location. Defend J20 Resistance says that location was the corner of L and Twelfth Street. Citizens were detained with zip ties "in a way that appeared vindictively tight" and some were kept in a van for hours.

One arrestee noted "it became difficult to breathe" and another said they went for hours without being permitted to use the rest room. The police tactics became the subject of a D.C. Police Complaints Board complaint, that reported the following.

"Some arrests may not have been carried out according to the Standard Operating Procedures, and that less than lethal weapons were used indiscriminately and without adequate warnings in certain instances."
"The arrests were extremely indiscriminate. It was a mass arrest of anyone the police believed had participated in the day's anti-fascist, anti-capitalist demonstration. There was very little in terms of targeted arrests."

The activist group supporting the defendants is called Defend J20, and they have filed a motion to dismiss the felony charges against Aaron Cantu. Sam Meneffee-Libey said the defendants "understand that the charges are political."

Defend J20 says on their website that the charges rest on a "broad interpretation of the Federal Riot Statute" which allows for any participant in a political rally to be found guilty of any property damage that takes place during the time in question. Defend J20 also had the following to say on the additional charges facing Cantu.

"These additional charges were given with no new group evidence or individual particulars. The D.C. Attorney's Office is trying to set a repressive precedent for political expression under the administration of Donald Trump with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It is incumbent upon anyone who values dissent to stand in solidarity with the defendants in this case."

Defend J20 Resistance is helping any defendants accused of similar charges. Katy Glenn, director of free expression research and policy for PEN America said the following.

"Reporter Aaron Cantu appears to have been indicted on multiple felony counts simply for being in the vicinity of property destruction. This is a serious threat to press freedom. If prosecutors cannot produce specific credible evidence that Cantu was directly involved in illegal acts, these charges should be dropped immediately. A reporter's job is to follow the story and bring the facts to the public. Throwing the book at Cantu which serious rioting charges that carry the potential of a long prison term raises a real risk of deterring other journalists from attempting to cover protests."

For John Boswell's experience of sexual assault at the Mayflower Hotel on Inauguration Day, he was sentenced to six months probation. But, he was permitted an exception on his probation to leave the country in order to visit the Bahamas. John Boswell has contributed over $120,000 to Republican campaigns reported the Washington Post.

Here's a video of the protests, taken by a Conservative reporter who is greatly displeased with liberals in this video. While there is some violence in play, Aaron Cantu is seen on this video at one point, where he is in the middle of a group of journalists and appears to be wiping tear gas or pepper spray from his eye. He is observing and not participating in the protests.


The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press wrote the United States Attorney Phillips in late February saying Cantu's charges should be dismissed as other journalists experienced that grace. A status hearing on the case is set for October 27, with jury trial date set for Aaron Cantu for October 15, 2018.

[Feature Image by John Minchillo/AP Images]