WASHINGTON - Six protesters arrested on charges related to rioting that took place on Inauguration Day in D.C. were acquitted Thursday in D.C. Superior Court.
Jennifer Armento, Oliver Harris, Brittne Lawson, Michelle Macchio, Christina Simmons and Alexei Wood were arrested by Metropolitan Police officers, and they all faced the same set of seven charges: two misdemeanor counts of engaging in rioting, and conspiracy to riot, as well as five felony counts of destruction of property.
In all, 194 people were arrested when protests broke out on January 20 in downtown Washington. The jury deliberated for two days before coming to decisions in these six cases.
Many of the defendants said they were shaking right before the verdict was read and crying inside the courtroom when they heard the jury's decision.
“I feel like all of the hard work and sacrifices that went into getting us to this moment was worth it,” said Harris. “I was anxious, but a certain part of me was certain that the right result would happen.”
After Thursday's decisions were announced, the defendants told reporters outside the courthouse that they believe these cases will set the stage for cases involving protests moving forward.
“I think that a lot of people have been scared away from voicing their opinions,” Harris said. “They don’t want to get arrested, they don’t want to pepper-sprayed, they don’t want to have a stinger grenade thrown at them.”
Earlier this month, Judge Lynn Leibovitz dismissed felony charges of inciting a riot against the six defendants.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia released the following statement regarding the verdicts:
"The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia believes that the evidence shows that a riot occurred on January 20, 2017, during which numerous public and private properties were damaged or destroyed. This destruction impacted many who live and work in the District of Columbia, and created a danger for all who were nearby. The criminal justice process ensures that every defendant is judged based on his or her personal conduct and intent. We appreciate the jury’s close examination of the individual conduct and intent of each defendant during this trial and respect its verdict. In the remaining pending cases, we look forward to the same rigorous review for each defendant."
Supporters are calling on the Trump administration to dismiss all charges against the remaining 188 defendants.
“This is a clear victory for the six defendants who were just tried and a rejection of the government’s attempt to criminalize dissent,” said Betty Rothstein of Defend J20 Resistance. “We’re continuing to call on the Trump administration to dismiss all charges against the remaining 188 Inauguration Day defendants awaiting trial.”
"When you are putting a case like this together, you have to make tough decisions and draw lines and decide between those who are engaged in constitutionally-protected activity and those who are engaged in criminal activity, and prosecute the latter and not prosecute the former," said defense attorney Steven McCool.