Over 217 Inauguration Protestors Face Up to Decade in Prison
Attorney Mark Goldstone says the felony indictments are unprecented and many of the protesters were not given warnings or proper opportunity to disperse
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
On January 20th, the day that Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, police arrested 230 protesters, including seven journalists in Washington, D.C.
Last Tuesday, a federal grand jury has indicted 217 of those protesters on felony rioting charges. If convicted, the accused to could face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, and up to $25,000 in fines.
Joining us to talk about the indictments is Mark Goldstone. He is an attorney for some of the protesters who have been indicted, and had over 30 years of experience defending people charged during political protests.
He has represented groups such as Act Up, Greenpeace, Citizen Action, Occupy D.C., and many more. He’s joining us today from Washington, D.C.
Mark, we appreciate you being here on The Real News.
MARK GOLDSTONE: Thank you for having me.
KIM BROWN: Mark, can you please tell us about the charges, and how your clients are reacting to them.
MARK GOLDSTONE: As you mentioned, Kim, there are over 200 individuals who are charged on a multi-count indictment. With either rioting, or inciting to riot, which is a felony charge, subject up to 10 years in prison under the District of Columbia code.
This is a very broad indictment that the grand jury has returned. And the clients are obviously very, very nervous, and very upset about it, because there were certain instances of property damage, and certain instances of violence that did occur. But nowhere near 217 people were directly involved in those activities.
KIM BROWN: And how many of these who have been indicted are your clients?
MARK GOLDSTONE: I was initially assigned, by the court to represent 44, and those numbers have diminished slightly, over the last couple of weeks.
KIM BROWN: Now, Washington, D.C., police -– Metropolitan Police Department, for those outside of the D.C. area –- really have a reputation for being generally even-handed. Now, this comes after being sued numerous times for over-policing for protests in the past.
But, just how unusual is it for people in a protest like this, to be indicted under felony rioting charges?
MARK GOLDSTONE: Kim, as you said, I’ve been defending activists for more than 30 years in the District of Columbia, and have represented — thousands and thousands of people come to exercise their freedom of speech in the nation’s capital — and I have never seen, or heard of, a single felony indictment for a rioter.
Or, frankly, for anything, so this is extremely unusual. And we believe very overbroad, and very unprecedented.
KIM BROWN: Mark, do you think that it will go to trial? Or are prosecutors angling to file the toughest charges possible, in order to pressure the defendants to settle for less serious charges, as is so common nowadays?
MARK GOLDSTONE: It’s not clear what the government’s theory of liability is, other than it’s a very broad theory. Which basically says, that anyone who is within a certain zone, a certain area in the District of Columbia, while acts of violence and while acts of property destruction were taking place.
That those individuals, because they either wore black, or dark-colored clothing, they had ski masks or gas masks or goggles or helmets. The government is saying that anyone who was dressed in that fashion was doing so in order to conceal their identity, to prevent law enforcement from being able to identify them.
And also was egging on, or inciting those people, who actually committed those acts of violence, or property destruction, and therefore this very broad government theory has put a very broad net around these 217 people. Some of whom may have only been exercising constitutionally protected freedom of speech rights. And were not necessarily affiliated with the acts of criminality.
KIM BROWN: According to one report, civil rights charges were filed against the D.C. police department, accusing the police of kettling. Which is a practice where they surround protesters and arrest them indiscriminately.
What can you tell us about this civil rights case? Is it proceeding, to your knowledge?
MARK GOLDSTONE: Right. Basically, the day of the inauguration was a simultaneous filing of these 217 criminal charges against the demonstrators. And simultaneously with that, the demonstrators filed a class action civil rights lawsuit against the District of Columbia police, for just what you described, Kim.
Which was the practice of kettling. Which means the surrounding by police of protesters, without giving them an adequate opportunity to be warned that they needed to disperse, any kind of dispersal order, or opportunity to disperse.
And we just today, received a report from a D.C. police monitoring organization, a District of Columbia government-monitoring agency that pointed out some of the obvious problems with the District of Columbia policing, during the inauguration. That report was sent to Mayor Muriel Bowser, and we are calling upon her to take action, follow the recommendations of the D.C. Complaint Review Board, which did the investigation.
They had monitors on the scene, and they prepared a written report that’s available on the Internet for all to see, in which they criticized some of the actions of the police. Including that the accusation that you made, that they were kettled, which means that they were not given warnings and proper opportunity to disperse.
KIM BROWN: Mark, you have defended protesters for a long time now. What do you think the felony charges against these protesters mean, for participation in protests in the future, in Washington, D.C.? I mean, is the aim here to have a chilling effect on participating?
MARK GOLDSTONE: It clearly has a chilling effect, because people are facing much more serious charges than they anticipated. Number one, more people are facing charges than were anticipated. And one month into the cases of, the government has only dismissed about nine, of the more than 200 and something cases.
They dismissed cases against journalists; they dismissed a case against law students and legal observers. But in our view, there are a lot more cases that likewise, deserve to be dismissed without charge. And it’s our position that the government has had over a month to study the videos, take statements, review the photographs and so forth.
And at this point, they should be ready to dismiss many, many, many additional charges. And so far, the government has not taken that step. Which we believe is required, under not just the law of the 1st Amendment, the broad federal law.
Also, it’s a D.C.-specific law, called the 1st Amendment Assemblies Act of 2004. And that law very clearly spells out the requirements for police, to have individualized probable cause against individuals, before they’re placed under arrest.
Along with the orders to disperse, and the opportunity to allow people to disperse, if they’re not directly implicated in criminality.
KIM BROWN: Mark, what’s next for your clients, absent what you just sort of described, whether or not the prosecutor will decide to continue to drop charges against protestors who have been indicted.
When is the next court date scheduled? What can we expect coming…?
MARK GOLDSTONE: Yeah, for example, tomorrow we have additional court dates for some of the defendants, and they’ll be coming in, and they’ll be read the felony indictment. And they’ll be setting a next court date, called a status hearing date, in a couple of weeks from now.
During that period of time, the defense will be undertaking a review of up to 600 hours of police videotapes, that the government is making available, in a special discovery online setup, that they’ve arranged for us.
I will be trading a plea, negotiations back and forth with the government, and we do hope to, either get cases dismissed, or favorable plea offers, between now and the next status hearing. But, as I said, it’s our belief that these cases should have been dismissed… many of these cases should have been dismissed a long time ago.
KIM BROWN: Indeed. Well, we have been joined with Mark Goldstone. He is an attorney in Washington, D.C. He is representing some of the protesters that were arrested on inauguration day, back on January 20th.
Last week, they were charged with felony counts of rioting. So, this is a very serious case. We will keep an eye on this, and Mark, we hope to speak with you in the future, to get an update as to what happens next.
MARK GOLDSTONE: Thank you again, Kim, for having me on. I really appreciate it. I look forward to talking with you again.
KIM BROWN: You’re welcome. Thank you for joining us, and thank you for watching The Real News Network.