Felony charges of riot incitement against six of the "J20" defendants — protestors who were controversially arrested during and after the January 20, 2017 inauguration of President Donald Trump — were reportedly dropped today. Former RT reporter Alex Rubinstein, who is covering the trial from Washington, D.C, announced the ruling on Twitter. Read his tweet below (Rubinstein references Alexei Wood, a freelance journalist who covered the protests and was subsequently arrested by police).
The court's decision is a ray of hope for over 200 remaining defendants currently awaiting trial on similar charges. Civil rights activists have accused the government of transferring crimes committed by unknown protestors onto innocent bystanders, effectively criminalizing the act of protesting. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is currently suing D.C. police for wrongful arrest of innocent protestors.
Alex Stokes, another journalist arrested and charged with felony riot incitement, told The Intercept that after violent skirmishes broke out during the protest, he witnessed police indiscriminately rounding up and arresting whoever they could catch, regardless of whether or not they had committed a crime. “Journalists, lawyers, the average protester: Those are the people they kettled, arrested, and charged with felony riot,” he said.
A felony charge of riot incitement carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000. More than half of the 200 defendants announced in June that they would not cooperate with the prosecution in protest of what they see as politically motivated charges.