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Charges dropped for 129 anti-Trump protest defendants

The government will pursue felony charges against 59 defendants, putting them at risk of decades in jail.

The US government will submit a motion to dismiss indictments for 129 of the 188 remaining Inauguration Day defendants, leaving 59 facing felony charges that could land them behind bars for decades.

"The government will be filing motions to dismiss without prejudice the indictment against the other remaining 129 defendants," William Miller, public information officer for the US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, said in a press statement provided to Al Jazeera by email.

Announced on Thursday afternoon, the statement said the US Attorney's Office for DC made the decision in order to "focus its efforts on this smaller, core group that we believe is most responsible for the destruction and violence that took place on Inauguration Day".

During the inauguration of US President Donald Trump on January 20, 2017, police surrounded, attacked and arrested more than 230 people during an anti-capitalist bloc march. 

Those arrested included protesters, journalists, medics, legal observers and bystanders. A felony riot charge was subsequently dealt to 234 people. The charge carried up to 10 years in jail and a $25,000 fine.

The city alleges that the protesters are responsible for $100,000 in property damage, while police have been accused of using unnecessary force against the group, including while they were surrounded and posed no threat. 

Twenty defendants reached plea deals in exchange for lesser sentences, while another 20 had their charges dropped altogether.

In April, the DC Superior Court returned a superseding indictment that issued a swath of additional charges, including several felonies to 212 people, among them three who were not initially charged.

In December, a jury found the first batch of six defendants not-guilty on all counts.

'It's not over' 

Although defendants and advocates celebrated Thursday's announcement, many called for the charges to be dropped for the remaining 59 defendants.

Writing on Twitter, Dylan Petrohilos, an Inauguration Defendant who is still facing charges, also called for continued support for those who did not have their charges dismissed. 

Among those still facing charges is independent journalist Aaron Cantu, whose prosecution has been decried by press freedom groups and watchdogs.

In the government's case filing, Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff wrote: "In light of the legal rulings by the court and the jury's verdicts in the first trial of these cases, the government has decided to proceed with all of the pending charges set forth in the superseding indictment (to include felony charges) [for 59] defendants." 

Kerkhoff, who is the lead prosecutor, maintained in the filing that the remaining defendants participated in "identifiable acts of destruction, violence, or other assaultive conduct", participated in planning the rally or "engaged in conduct that demonstrates a knowing and intentional use of the black-bloc tactic".

"Black bloc" refers to a tactic in which protesters wear all black and cover their faces to create an atmosphere of anonymity and unity while concealing their identity from police or those who seek to identify them and publish their information online.

The American Civil Liberties Union in DC, a rights group, welcomed Thursday's decision but urged the US Attorney's Office for DC to reconsider evidence against the remaining defendants. 

"For a full year, the government's abusive prosecution has upended the lives of these defendants, who've endured the anxiety of multiple court hearings and suffered disruptions to their educations or careers while facing the prospect of more than 60 years in prison," Scott Michelman, senior staff attorney at the ACLU-DC, said in a statement. 

"We hope the government continues to carefully examine the evidence it has against the remaining 59 defendants, at least some of whom we continue to believe are innocent."


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