A judge has dismissed felony charges of inciting a riot against six people facing trial for their association with or participation in violent protests on Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day.
Approximately 230 people were arrested in Washington during and after the inauguration ceremony and later charged with felony rioting. But D.C. Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz dismissed those charges Wednesday morning for the first group of six people, including a photojournalist. While some people have pleaded guilty or been let off the hook since their arrests, 188 still face the full plate of charges.
The six also still face five other charges of property damage as well as two misdemeanors and Leibovitz denied the defense's motion to acquit on Wednesday. She described the protest as an "organized, concerted riot," which each defendant was aware of, according to reports from the courtroom. If the jury convicts the defendants of all charges, they face up to 50 years in prison.
The riots that roiled Washington on Jan. 20 threatened to eclipse the main event: Trump being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. “Black-bloc” anarchists and anti-fascist protesters hurled firecrackers at police and threw rocks through storefront windows, at one point even torching a limousine. The U.S attorney’s office estimated that the cost of damage to the city to be $100,000.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff in turn tried to argue that each of the defendants was in the vicinity of areas where windows were smashed, according to reporters inside the courtroom.
Among the six people who appeared in court Wednesday was photojournalist Alexei Wood, who broadcast the days events on Facebook Live, and a medic who brought a first aid kit to the protest. Reporters in the courtroom said her kit was unpacked as evidence in her defense, and included bandages, tampons, and gauze. They also showed videos of her wearing a white medic’s helmet, using a water bottle to flush people’s eyes affected by pepper spray.
Thus far, the Department of Justice’s prosecution has been far-reaching. In February, the department hit Facebook with three warrants seeking information about “anti-administration activists who have spoken out at organized events, and who are generally very critical of this administration’s policies.” The DOJ had also issued search warrants to DreamHost, a web-hosting provider, seeking information about the approximately 1.3 million visitors to the website disruptj20.org, which organized the Inauguration Day protests. The government backed off after a backlash from civil liberties groups.
Most of the people arrested had also been “kettled” — a tactic where police trap protesters in a confined area. That made civil liberties advocates worried the prosecution had painted everyone charged — anarchists, peaceful protesters, journalists, legal observers, and medics — with the same brush.
Editor's note 4:13 p.m. ET 12/13/17: This headline has been clarified.