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Federals drop charges against more than 100 arrested during takeover protests

WASHINGTON – The US government UU He announced that he is abandoning his trial of more than 120 defendants accused of crimes for their participation in violent protests on the day of President Trump's inauguration a year ago. The announcement came on Thursday, after a jury of Washington in December acquitted the first group of six defendants on all counts.

A statement from the US Attorney's Office UU He said the government will continue pursuing felony charges against 59 defendants, while moving to dismiss petty crime cases against the 129 remaining defendants. All were accused of crimes ranging from inciting a riot to the destruction of property.

The announcement marks a major change in the government's strategy, which had originally planned a series of group trials that would run through most of 2018. That plan suffered a setback with acquittals in December.

The announcement was hailed as a victory by supporters of the defendants, who claimed from the outset that the trials were an attempt by the Trump administration to repress and criminalize dissidents.

Kris Hermes, activist and spokesperson for Defend J20 Resistance, said the movement still intends to mobilize on behalf of the remaining 59 defendants against "what is clearly a political prosecution".

The accusations stem from a violent protest on January 20, in which hundreds of black-clad protesters, many with masked faces, marched downtown toward Franklin Square. Some protesters broke windows on a bank and a Starbucks, and a limousine parked on K Street in front of Franklin Square was smashed and burned.

In the first group trial, the government adopted a somewhat unusual strategy: instead of trying to prove that one of the defendants was personally guilty of destruction, the prosecutors argued that all the demonstrators present that day knew and supported the violent intentions of others.

Much of the evidence consisted of a variety of videos, from security cameras, police helicopters and, in some cases, published on social networks by the accused themselves. Prosecutors also interviewed dozens of witnesses, but none could identify any of the defendants as perpetrators.

That strategy failed badly.

Even before the jury began its deliberations, Judge Lynn Leibovitz seriously damaged the government's case by dismissing the most serious charge against the six, a felony charge of inciting a riot. Leibovitz said there was simply no evidence to support the charge and that the jury's verdict showed that prosecutors had not presented convincing evidence to support even the remaining minor charges.

In Thursday's court filing, Deputy US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff said the government "is focusing its efforts on the defendants who participated in identifiable acts of destruction …"

The next trial is scheduled for start on March 5, although that time may change depending on a state hearing on Friday morning.

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