The U.S. Attorney’s office is dropping charges against 129 of the almost 200 people that were charged with felony rioting for protesting on inauguration day last year.
Prosecutors filed documents quietly Thursday evening, citing the verdict last month that acquitted the first six defendants to stand trial for the charges. However, the Justice Department still plans to continue cases against 59 others that were involved in the march.
Last month, jurors found the first six defendants to be not guilty on all charges, including conspiracy to riot, engaging in a riot, and five counts of criminal property destruction.
The cases against the defendants rests on video evidence that shows hundreds of people marching through Washington D.C. The march was followed by some individuals smashing windows, throwing rocks and clashing with police. Rather than charge those actually responsible for the damage, prosecutors chose to charge the entire group of marchers criminally responsible.
Prosecutors have admitted to having no evidence of the first six defendants committing any crimes, instead choosing to arrest them for being guilty by association. The charges held a maximum sentence of almost 60 years in prison.
Police and prosecutors have spent an enormous amount of time sifting through hundreds of hours of video in order to create highlight reels for the court.
The costs, which have already been high, would have skyrocketed had the department decided to pursue the same case for nearly 200 more people, and 20-plus separate juries. Dropping the charges for 129 people will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional expenses.
Prosecutors will continue with cases against the other 59 individuals which they are calling, a “smaller, core group that we believe is most responsible for the destruction and violence that took place.” Yet the video footage shown to the group of jurors in the first trial showed less than a dozen individuals being responsible for behaving in a criminal fashion.
One woman who did not get the charges against her dropped, Elizabeth Lagesse, is among a group of plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the police for violation of the protesters’ rights before, during, and after the march.
The lawsuit states that law enforcement gave no order to disperse, and the encirclement tactic known as “kettling” was employed when it should not have been used. Lagesse and hundreds of others were penned by riot police, who used heavy-handed tactics to corral the march. Police used pepper spray cannons on the group after containing them, according to the lawsuit and video footage from the first trial. Some plaintiffs in the lawsuit also claim that officers physically abused them when taking them in for processing.
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