On Friday, the U.S. Attorney’s office announced that the charges against the defendants involved in or connected to the anti-Trump protests that occurred during the 2017 presidential inauguration will be dismissed. According to Buzzfeed, protestors were arrested for allegedly destroying public and private property and dressing head to toe in all black, referred to by prosecutors as “black bloc,” which aims to mask one’s identity from law enforcement. While several protests took place that day, only one seemed to turn violent, causing over $100,000 in damages.
Over 230 people were arrested and charged in Washington on January 20, 2017. Only 21 people pleaded guilty and only one person was sent to jail. All the remaining charges were dismissed largely because jurors were unable to reach a consensus, or defendants were simply exonerated. The U.S. Attorney’s office released a statement confirming the number of guilty pleas.
“In light of the results in the cases brought to trial, however, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has now moved to dismiss charges against the 38 remaining defendants in this matter.” While the government had been gradually dismissing cases throughout the last several months, the last 38 charges were finally dropped on Friday.
Defense attorney Mark Goldstone was glad to see the charges dropped, claiming that the year-and-a-half of trials proceeding the arrests were “a huge waste of taxpayers’ money.” Goldstone added the he hopes “this will deter the Government from proceeding on a group-guilt theory that an individual protester is somehow criminally responsible, and facing decades in jail for the actions of every person attending that particular protest.”
Protestors were being charged based on the actions of an entire group, rather than being charged for their own individual actions. Many argued that they should not be held responsible for the wrongdoings of other people. Throughout the trials, prosecutors attempted to convict protestors without any evidence, but jurors were unable to come to a verdict based solely on claims.
More notably, one defendant was arrested for simply covering and reporting the protests. The arrest of journalist Aaron Cantù sparked outrage from free press groups, who soon began to raise questions about the current state of the first amendment. Upon the mass dismissal of charges, however, Cantù’s lawyer tweeted his gratitude.
“We are extremely pleased with the court’s dismissal of the charges against our client Aaron Cantu. He is a very promising journalist with a bright future, and we are gratified that the baseless charges against him have been dismissed,” he said.