WASHINGTON — A D.C. judge on Thursday dismissed felony charges against 10 individuals arrested while protesting President Donald Trump’s inauguration, finding that the government violated the due process rights of defendants by failing to turn over evidence it obtained from a right-wing media organization. Three of the defendants still face misdemeanor charges.
D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Robert Morin found that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which is part of the Justice Department, had committed Brady violations by withholding undercover videos that James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas had turned over to the government.
The ruling in the case against a group of defendants whose trials were about to begin was made as closing arguments unfolded one floor below in the trial of a separate group of defendants. The government had wanted the charges dismissed without prejudice, leaving open the possibility that the government could try to bring the charges again. But Morin ruled that the charges should be dismissed with prejudice, meaning the government is barred from bringing the charges in the future.
“I do think it’s a serious violation,” Morin said, adding that it was “not explainable to the court” that the government had misled the court. “Your office represented that was the only video turned over,” the judge said, referring to an undercover video of a planning meeting that hadn’t been disclosed in its entirety.
In fact, there were dozens of videos on the drive that Project Veritas turned over to the government, defense attorneys said. At one point, a government prosecutor described the right-wing Project Veritas as a “concerned citizen group.”
“This undeniable prosecutorial misconduct is a serious governmental abuse of power,” said Scott Michelman, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of D.C. “From the initial overcharging decisions to these latest revelations about the government’s misleading editing of the Project Veritas video, the U.S. Attorney’s office has repeatedly abused its power in a quest to lock people up for exercising their First Amendment rights on Inauguration Day.”
Thursday’s ruling was yet another setback in the government’s messy pursuit of felony charges against defendants swept up in a mass arrest after members of the protest group smashed windows ahead of Trump’s Jan. 20, 2017, inauguration. A jury previously acquitted six defendants who prosecutors admitted had not committed any destruction. Prosecutors announced in January that they were dropping charges against 129 defendants, but said they’d pursue the felony charges against a “core group” of 59 defendants. In the second trial, which began earlier this month, the government alleged that three of the four defendants actually engaged in property destruction.
It’s not clear how the ruling will ultimately affect the four defendants currently on trial or the dozens of defendants with charges pending. Closing arguments in the trial of the second group of defendants, which is being overseen by another judge, are expected to wrap up on Thursday.