Wake DA drops charges against hundreds of legislative protesters

Posted September 19, 2014

— Trespassing charges were dropped Friday against hundreds people arrested last year during protests at the Legislative Building.

Interim Wake County District Attorney Ned Mangum's decision to dismiss the cases follows rulings in recent weeks by two District Court and one Superior Court judge to throw out cases against about a dozen protesters.

The judges all cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that invalidated a buffer zone Massachusetts had set up around an abortion clinic to keep anti-abortion protesters at bay. The court said in that case that a state must determine who is "actually disrupting or obstructing legitimate governmental interests" and not infringe on the free speech rights of others.

The North Carolina judges likewise said the arrests at the Legislative Building violated the protesters right to peacefully assemble and speak, and the actions of General Assembly police weren't tailored narrowly enough to deal with any disturbance.

"It would be a waste of resources down here for us to go forward," Mangum said, noting 50 or so cases will go forward where actual offices were occupied or when people were in the Legislative Building when it was officially closed.

Between 500 and 600 cases are involved in Friday's decision. Other protesters have already taken their cases to trial – some were convicted, others acquitted – and still others went into a program that had the charges erased in exchange for community service.

"This doesn't mean that there's a free for all, but certainly protesting and the First Amendment is a big part of our lives here in the United States," Mangum said. "You can certainly protest, but there are some limits to protest."

More than 900 people were arrested last year during the weekly "Moral Monday" demonstrations against a legislative agenda that the protesters said hurt poor and disadvantaged North Carolinians.

The protests were more subdued this year, with only a few dozen arrests, and a judge threw out some of the rules a legislative commission adopted in May to deal with the protests, ruling they were too broadly written.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger declined to comment on the dismissals.

Meredith College political science professor David McLennan said the court rulings and the new rules at the Legislative Building will likely cut down on arrests at future protests, a key Moral Monday attention-getting tactic.

"Some of the members said that their goal was to get arrested," McLennan said. "They lose that tool, but they're an adaptable group that will look for other ways."

But Rev. William Barber, the state NAACP president and one of the leaders of the Moral Monday movement, said arrests were never the intent of the protests.

"We went in to challenge what we believed then, and believe now, are constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible and economically insane extremist policies,"  Barber said in a statement. "Today's decision to dismiss virtually all charges against the messengers of justice sends another message to extremists who would take our state backwards. The Constitution is alive and well. It stands for justice and fair play."


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  • Carl Keehn Sep 23, 2014
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    You realize of course, that the protests were held in the evening when working people were off from work.

  • prn13norm Sep 22, 2014

    Selective Justice. A cornerstone of the Obama/Holder/Hagan administration.

  • baldchip Sep 22, 2014

    No surprise here-true politics at work!!

  • miseem Sep 19, 2014

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    I think that more than a small minority of the NC public considers actions by the NCGA a problem for the state. With the gerrymandering, it may be a while before we can get that minority of ultra right wing radicals out of the state assembly, but in a state wide race, like the US Senate this year, and the Governor's race in 2 years, we may find that a lot of people do not support these extreme right wing views.

  • less_govt_is_better_govt Sep 19, 2014

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    I.e. they collected so much money under a nonprofit organization they had to do something with it to avoid being taxed much like the corporations they were protesting against lol.

    Good for them point still stands they went away after their 15 minutes and the media gave them more attention than they deserved

  • jdraleigh Sep 19, 2014

    Interesting -- The commenters who feel that the recent Supreme Court decision was too helpful for the protesters, and interfered with our State's Rights, probably cheered that decision when it was handed down, since it upheld the rights of anti-abortion protesters.

  • Atheistinafoxhole Sep 19, 2014

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    "Let them protest and be goofy all they want they like occupy wall street will go away."

    Actually, the Occupy movement has begun helping retire outstanding student loan debt for people they don't even know:

    [url]http://finance.yahoo.com/news/occupy-wall-street-student-debt-091500063.html/url]Losers! (sarcasm)

  • Robin Dean Sep 19, 2014
    user avatar

    Shame - they should at least have a criminal trespass conviction and at least $1,000 fine plus court costs and cost of prosecution. They are law violators and should not be let go. Hope they at the very least had to pay the court costs! And they need to be banned from any government property unless they have a valid reason to be there such as renewing a drivers license or voting. Bunch of fools!

  • less_govt_is_better_govt Sep 19, 2014

    This is more Willoughby fallout.

    They never broke any laws they just got on people's nerves and the story deprived media eats this type of thing up.

    Let them protest and be goofy all they want they like occupy wall street will go away.

    Anybody who knows the former DA knows he would allow a cop to charge a turnip with a crime and prosecute just to get another conviction under his belt. Fluffing your conviction rating is easy to do when you have immunity and can do so on the taxpayer dime without consequence.

    The county will long suffer the effects of the good ole' boy fallout his travesty of an office left over his 30 year tenure and the taxpayers will fit the bill

  • Atheistinafoxhole Sep 19, 2014

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    Due to the reliance on the SCOTUS ruling in the abortion clinic buffer zone case (McCullen v. Coakley), lower courts subsequently found the NC law unconstitutionally vague. It is not possible to break an unconstitutional law.