Second Trump Inauguration Protest Trial Ends In Acquittals/Mistrials

Washington, DC – The US government has again failed to secure convictions in its mass felony prosecution of anti-Trump protesters arrested during the presidential inauguration on January 20 (J20), 2017. After the first trial ended in full acquittals late last year, the second trial has ended in partial acquittals and/or mistrials, with jurors “deadlocked” (unable to reach a unanimous verdict) on many charges. All four defendants faced felony charges of conspiracy to riot, engaging in a riot, and several counts of property destruction, with each of them facing sentences of up to 60 years in prison.

The second J20 trial had been proceeding under the shadow of a finding by DC Superior Court Chief Judge Robert Morin that the US Attorney’s office had committed a ‘Brady’ violation by withholding evidence from defendants. The trial itself was overseen by Judge Kimberley Knowles, who herself found the same ‘Brady’ violation as Morin but repeatedly refused to declare a mistrial before sending the case to the jury.

On Monday, June 4, jurors announced their first partial verdict, acquitting defendant Cathseigh Webber on all charges. Webber was not accused of involvement in any property destruction but was charged based on his “mere presence” at the protest and the fact that he was in a labor union Facebook Messenger group that discussed inauguration protests. The three other trial defendants – Seth Cadman, Anthony Felice, and Michael Basillas – were each personally accused of involvement in property destruction. However, with no witness to personally identify the defendants, the government relied on correlations of blurry video clips and screenshots to claim it had identified certain defendants as particular masked individuals who had been documented breaking windows at the protest

On Wednesday, June 6, jurors returned another partial verdict, finding Seth Cadman not guilty on all counts except the charge of “engaging in a riot,” on which they told Judge Knowles they were deadlocked. The next day, Thursday, June 7, jurors returned another partial verdict just before lunch, telling Judge Knowles they had found defendant Anthony Felice not guilty of Assault on a Police Officer (a charge only Felice faced in this trial group) and were deadlocked regarding all other charges against Felice.

Later on Thursday, around 2 PM,  jurors sent another note to Judge Knowles announcing that they were totally deadlocked regarding all charges against Michael Basillas, the only remaining defendant.

For each of the charges on which jurors were “deadlocked” and couldn’t agree on a verdict, Judge Knowles declared a mistrial. This means that prosecutors have 30 days to re-file charges on which jurors couldn’t agree and the judge declared a mistrial, but can’t re-file any charges on which defendants were fully acquitted by the jury.

After the trial had ended, we spoke with a juror who told us she preferred to discuss the case anonymously. The juror told us that “ID-ing defendants in the video evidence [prosecutors] provided…was very difficult.” The juror also expressed that she sought to avoid setting a legal precedent that would allow police to use conspiracy charges to prosecute people for simply attending a protest where others allegedly committed crimes.

“I think, for me, what I was hoping with this case was that we didn’t set a precedent of, ‘anytime there’s a protest march where a handful of people in the march decide to do something that may be criminal, that the rest of the people in the protest are charged with that activity.’

I think that was part of the conspiracy charge, that there was a common knowledge of the criminal activity among everyone who was involved, and I think that’s a very slippery slope to say that, you know, when you show up to a march, you may or may not know the other people in the march.

And to assume that, you know, that they had knowledge of something criminal, that you both had that knowledge at the same time together… I think it’s a slippery slope that, you know, I want people, especially in Washington, DC, to feel like they can go to a protest march, from beginning to end, and if somebody at that march did something criminal, and you did not, that you feel safe from prosecution from any of those crimes.” – Anonymous juror in the second J20 trial

Over 200 people were arrested at the “anti-capitalist, anti-fascist” march on January 20, 2017 after police Commander Keith Deville ordered officers to surround and arrest everyone attending the anti-capitalist march. During his cross-examination in the first J20 trial last year, Commander Deville admitted that police under his command “didn’t issue any dispersal orders” and that “when I decided to stop this group … I wasn’t differentiating between who was protesting and who was rioting.”

Multiple lawsuits are pending against the District of Columbia and its Metropolitan Police Department, as well as Deville and other police officials, alleging civil rights and human violations by DC police during Trump inauguration protests. Local DC government has also earmarked $150,000 for an independent investigation into police violence during inauguration protests.

Over 40 defendants still face charges stemming from inauguration protests, although the US Attorney is expected to drop more cases in the wake of their continued failure to secure convictions at trial.

 


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