WASHINGTON (CN) – Prosecutors on Friday asked a Washington, D.C., judge to dismiss the remaining charges against 39 people accused of rioting during protests of President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.
“I hope the government has taken an important lesson away from these failed prosecutions, that they should avoid chilling First Amendment rights by using inappropriate charges against people who have done nothing wrong,” Scott Michelman, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of the District of Columbia, said in an interview.
Law enforcement arrested and charged more than 200 people with crimes stemming from the protests, and the prosecutions have seen several waves of dismissals starting after the first group of people to go to trial in December of last year were acquitted.
In January, the government dropped charges against 129 other people accused of rioting during the mass protests.
Prosecutors dropped yet more charges after D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Morin rebuked them for withholding video evidence obtained from right-wing group Project Veritas, which secretly recorded a planning meeting for the protests.
In a statement released Friday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia stood by its claim that the protesters engaged in a riot on January 20, pointing to the 21 people who have already pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the protests.
However, prosecutors cited their difficulty securing convictions at trial to justify their move to drop the remaining charges.
“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 damages was caused to numerous public and private properties,” the statement reads. “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 39 remaining defendants in this matter.”
The protests during Trump’s inauguration began peacefully, but eventually turned violent as protesters, some clad in all back, broke windows and clashed with police in the streets of Northwest Washington.
The government’s move to dismiss the cases on Friday ends the lengthy battle over the prosecutions, which drew the ire of civil rights groups that said the government did not do enough to distinguish between people who damaged property and those who protested peacefully.
“Our system doesn’t allow guilt by association,” Michelman said.
He added that some of the people whose charges were dropped on Friday could join a class action levying civil rights charges against the Washington police.