By Elizabeth Lagesse

November 22, 2017

J20 Defendant’s Diary: Day 1

On November 20, prosecutors and defense made opening remarks; manager of Au Bon Pain, bike cop testify

By Elizabeth Lagesse

November 21, 2017

NOTE: This is the first in a series of daily updates on the trials of 194 defendants who were arrested protesting Donald Trump’s inauguration.

In DC Superior Court on Monday, the first trial began for six protesters facing multiple felony charges connected to Trump’s inauguration. They are the first of 194 people, of whom I am one, set to stand trial on related charges throughout 2018.

These particular defendants asserted their right to a speedy trial against the protests of prosecutors, who face the challenge of building unprecedented felony riot charges out of digital evidence. Civil liberties groups have criticized the prosecution’s case as an attempt to chill political speech using heavy-handed criminal charges (full disclosure: I am involved with the ACLU in a lawsuit against the MPD).

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff presented the prosecution’s opening statement, giving her dramatic interpretation of the alleged riot’s effects on the surrounding neighborhood. Attorneys for each defendant followed, with statements focusing on free speech implications and the government’s lack of evidence for these specific defendants. Several defense attorneys noted that the defendants in this trial are not alleged to have committed physical acts of violence or property destruction, but rather to have participated as part of a conspiracy.

In other words, both sides acknowledge no one on trial today broke anything at all.

Andrew Lapp, store manager of an Au Bon Pain restaurant at 13th St., was the government’s first witness. He described the experience of seeing protesters gather at Logan Circle, of spending “four or five minutes” searching for parking, and the “excited chatter” among customers as the restaurant’s windows were broken. Lapp associated the protesters with the individuals who broke his windows, citing their “dark clothes.” The defense pressed him on his inability to identify specific defendants in the crowd, as well as the visible protesters wearing brighter colors.

Officer Ashley Anderson of the Metropolitan Police Department, 7th District concluded the day’s testimony with her account of patrolling the scene of the protest with her bicycle squad. She described police without “enough manpower to go after anyone” individually, despite witnessing property destruction “almost within arm’s reach.” Like Lapp, Anderson described the protesters as “all dressed alike,” with some wearing masks. Time ran out near the end of the prosecution’s questions, but the defense will have its turn to question Anderson when the trial resumes on Tuesday.

The prosecution seems to be basing its case largely on the protesters’ clothes, and on loose associations among all present nearby property destruction. It remains to be seen how the defense will counter this narrative, but there are hints of arguments based on freedoms of speech and association.