WASHINGTON ― Justice Department prosecutors on Friday dropped pending felony charges against the 38 remaining protesters arrested the day of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. After initially charging more than 200 people with felonies, prosecutors secured only a single guilty plea to a felony charge. An additional 20 individuals pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.
“Obviously it’s a huge relief to have these charges dropped after an 18-month nightmare,” said Michael A. Webermann, one of the defendants who had his charges dropped Friday. “However, it’s hard not to feel cynical about the enormous amount of power that prosecutors have to overcharge people, disrupt their lives, and then drop cases before having to face any consequences in court.”
In a statement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia ― which prosecutes both federal and local crimes in the nation’s capital ― said they were dismissing charges against the remaining 38 defendants in “light of results in the cases brought to trial.”
The decision followed a string of losses for prosecutors. In the first trial late last year, all six defendants were acquitted on all charges. Prosecutors conceded from the beginning of the first trial that they had no evidence any of the defendants had engaged in property destruction that day. Yet, they insisted they should be found guilty of felony charges for their involvement in a conspiracy to riot. Jurors disagreed.
It’s hard not to feel cynical about the enormous amount of power that prosecutors have to overcharge people, disrupt their lives, and then drop cases before having to face any consequences in court. Michael A. Webermann, one of the defendants who had his charges dropped Friday.
The second trial earlier this year was a bit more complicated. That time, the government argued that some of the defendants had engaged in some form of property destruction. Jurors once again quickly acquitted a defendant who was not alleged to have destroyed any property. In other cases, protesters’ tactic of wearing all black left some jurors with questions about the identity of the defendants. The jury deadlocked on charges against some of the defendants who were alleged to have destroyed property. “We just couldn’t get beyond reasonable doubt,” one juror said.
The trials raised major questions about the tactics used by prosecutors and the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. While law enforcement in D.C. has generally taken a progressive approach to policing demonstrations, its use of non-lethal weapons and policy of arresting demonstrators en masse came under scrutiny and is subject to ongoing litigation. Charges against 10 defendants were dropped after a judge said that prosecutors had withheld evidence ― videos shot by the conservative group Project Veritas ― from the defense.
Authorities said that members of the group caused more than $ 100,000 worth of damage on Jan. 20, 2017.
Here’s the full statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office:
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia believes that the evidence shows that a riot occurred on January 20, 2017, during which more than $ 100,000 in damage was caused to numerous public and private properties. The destruction that occurred during these criminal acts was in sharp contrast to the peaceful demonstrations and gatherings that took place over the Inauguration weekend in the District of Columbia, and created a danger for all who were nearby. Indeed, 21 people have pled guilty to charges for their conduct that day, including one to felony offenses. 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.
Ryan Reilly is HuffPost’s senior justice reporter covering the Justice Department, federal law enforcement, criminal justice and legal affairs. Have a tip? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Signal at 202-527-9261.