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Government moves to dismiss all remaining J20 cases

After three crushing defeats in court, federal prosecutors decided to cut their losses.

Police pepper spray at anti-Trump protesters during clashes in Washington, DC, on Jan. 20, 2017. CREDIT: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Police pepper spray at anti-Trump protesters during clashes in Washington, DC, on Jan. 20, 2017. CREDIT: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

The government moved Friday to dismiss the 38 remaining cases against protesters who were arrests in mass at President Donald Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017.

“After further review, the United States, in the exercise of its discretion, has determined that these matters should be dismissed without prejudice,” read the three-sentence motion filed in Washington, D.C., Superior Court on Friday afternoon.

Police arrested 234 people during Inauguration Day protests in Washington, D.C. Of those, 21 plead guilty. Friday’s motion puts the final nail in the coffin of the last prosecutions from those arrests.

The government had tried to prosecute a long list of defendants for conspiracy to riot, a serious felony that hinged on prosecutors’ ability to prove collective guilt for property destruction by just a handful of protesters.

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That argument relied heavily on videos from Project Veritas, a right-wing group with a history of selectively editing and doctoring video. The government’s case started to fall apart in May, after prosecutors failed to hand over 69 video and audio recordings to defense lawyers — a serious legal violation made all the more egregious because Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff personally assured Chief Judge Robert Morin in one of the cases that no further recordings existed.

The government dropped charges against 10 defendants after the additional recordings came to light, and right before jury selection was set to begin in that case.

By last month, prosecutors had failed to get a conviction in their three strongest cases, and dismissing the rest was all but a fait accompli. Friday’s motion makes that official.

“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 more than $100,000 in damage was caused to numerous public and private properties,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement published in full by HuffPost. “In light of the results in the cases brought to trial, however, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has now moved to dismiss charges against the 38 remaining defendants in this matter.”