Federal prosecutors are trying to convict 200 people in Inauguration Day protests that turned violent. A jury cleared the first half-dozen defendants after one of their attorneys urged them to protect the “rights of free speech.”
The first six people to face trial in Inauguration Day protests that turned destructive in the Washington, D.C., were acquitted of all charges, the Washington Post reports. It was a victory not only for the defendants but also for advocates who argued the government overreached in its effort to prosecute more than 200 people arrested as they marched through the city. After a nearly four-week trial and two days of deliberations, a Superior Court jury delivered not-guilty verdicts Thursday on multiple charges of rioting and destruction of property. The defendants — including a nurse for cancer patients, a freelance photographer and a college student — joined throngs of protesters who took to the streets Jan. 20 to protest Donald Trump’s election.
Prosecutors said the six were in a group that cut a violent swath through 16 blocks of the city, smashing businesses’ windows, tossing newspaper boxes into the street and damaging a limousine. Authorities tallied the damage at more than $100,000. Jennifer Armento, 38, a Philadelphia woman who was among the defendants, said the verdict “shows the country that the jury was unwilling to do what the government wanted them to do, which was criminalize dissent.” Defense attorneys said most in the group of about 500 were peacefully protesting, while only a handful peeled off and became violent. They criticized police for failing to identify those people and said officers unfairly herded a group of 200 and charged them with rioting. Defense attorney Steven McCool appealed to jurors to protect the “rights of free speech.” Prosecutors said the demonstration, planned by a group called DisruptJ20, was aimed at destruction, not freedom of expression. Authorities say the group used “black bloc” tactics — wearing dark clothing and hiding their faces with masks and goggles so it would be harder to identify them.