Cases dropped against some legislative protesters
Posted January 22, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County prosecutors are dismissing the cases against protesters arrested at the General Assembly on May 20, according to both the state conference of the NAACP and the Wake County District Attorney's Office.
More than 900 protesters were arrested during weekly protests at the General Assembly last spring and summer. On May 20, 57 individuals were charged with trespassing and related charges. Protesters said they were practicing civil disobedience to push back against a variety of policies they said hurt poor residents of the state.
Over the past several months, some protesters have been convicted, while others have been acquitted or entered deals to have the charges dropped in exchange for community service. However, Wednesday's action seems to be the first time a group of cases was dismissed en masse.
"We felt like, from our review, the evidence wasn't as strong," said Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby.
Given the time that had passed and the number of those arrested, he said, the testimony of the officers who made the arrests wasn't sufficient to win convictions. Prosecutors have been relying on videos of the so-called "Moral Monday" events and subsequent arrests inside the Legislative Building during the trials.
"In these particular cases, the video evidence wasn't as strong," Willoughby said of the tape from May 20.
He said some of those arrested on May 20 had already been convicted or had their charges dropped, although he didn't know how many.
A spokeswoman for the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP said that charges against all of those arrested on May 20 had been dropped but said some people in that group had already made plea agreements. She said the NAACP expected to put out a statement about the dismissals late Wednesday.
Mary Elizabeth Wilson, a prosecutor who works for Willoughby, said only 14 cases were dismissed in court Wednesday. Some were tried and found not guilty on Tuesday. The remaining May 20 cases are scheduled for a future trial dates, but are likely to be dismissed at that time.
Willoughby said cases of others arrested on different dates would still be pursued. He could not say how many of those arrested during the protests were still awaiting trial.
According to Wilson, roughly a third of the cases rising from the Moral Monday protests have been concluded, most of those through plea agreements.