More Trump Inauguration Protester Prosecutions Dropped as Judge Rules Government Suppressed Evidence

Posted on June 2, 2018

 Al Jazeera reports that US attorneys prosecuting a group of protesters at a Washington, DC Inauguration Day demonstration (known as J20) for felony rioting charges have dropped charges against a new group of defendants after a judge ruled that the government had willfully suppressed evidence which would have helped exonerate the accused. Last month, Judge Robert Morin, who has presided over previous J20 prosecution cases, ruled that the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia (USAO-DC) had knowingly concealed video footage and other recordings that would contribute to the defense of a number of accused protesters facing felony rioting charges.

After reviewing an edited video provided to the government by far-right group Project Veritas, the judge found that, as the footage drew from 71 much more extensive unedited video and audio recordings sharply at odds with prosecutors’ assertions, the USAO-DC had violated the Brady rule, which requires prosecutors to submit exculpatory evidence for use by the defense. Among other things, the unearthed media depict J20 organizers training participants on how to deescalate confrontations with counter-protesters and police that threaten to become violent.

Three defendants whose trial was set for May 29 had their felony rioting charges dropped following the ruling, and now face only misdemeanor charges, while another co-defendant scheduled for the May 29 trial has since had all their charges dropped. Additionally, last week, prosecutors threw out charges for group of six defendants previously set for a June 4 trial.

As we have noted in previous posts, the J20 defendants were physically restricted by police and arrested en masse after a small subset of protesters began inflicting property damage. Prosecutors subsequently leveled felony rioting charges summarily against all the arrestees, who included two independent journalists documenting the demonstration, before dropping charges against a significant number of after acquittal of the first group of defendants. Civil liberties advocates decried the breach of mandatory police protocol, such as failure to direct the crowd to disperse before commencing arrests and the indiscriminate arrest of hundreds of individuals, and the aggressive prosecution on felony charges as a means of stifling dissent.

Project Veritas, the hyper-partisan ultra-conservative nonprofit that furnished the evidentiary media formerly withheld by the USAO-DC, is infamous for its propagandistic guerilla tactics of video-recording undercover meetings with supposed leftist organizations and manipulating the footage to suggest systemic left-leaning bias. The group surfaced prominently in the public discourse after their failed attempt to discredit the Washington Post reporting on the sexual misconduct of Alabama US Senate candidate Roy Moore against minors.

The revelation of prosecutors’ deliberately suppressing exculpatory evidence adds another alarming dimension to an already deeply unsettling case. Not only did the  government entities carrying out the J20 case indiscriminately arrest protesters and slap them with felony charges for what is ordinarily a misdemeanor offense, effectively chilling the First Amendment right to free assembly, but prosecutors then hid evidence that a judge ruled they could reasonably be assumed to know would contradict their case and help acquit the defendants. While the judge in this case exercised shrewd, principled, constitutionally minded judgement in upholding the Brady rule, it bears keeping in mind that President Trump enjoys the right to fill more federal judicial vacancies than any president in decades, which could mean that judges presiding over future cases targeting protesters may be more inclined to defer to prosecutors’ interests. 

You can read the full article from Al Jazeera here

Jonathan Terrasi has been a Research Assistant with the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights since January 2017. His interests include computer security, encryption, history, and philosophy. In his writing, he regularly covers topics on current affairs and political developments, as well as technical analyses and guides on security issues, published on his blog, Cymatic Scanning, and Linux Insider.