Sleepful Protest charges dismissed when prosecution fails to present case

Sleepful Protest defendants Rudy Roberts and Harris Nicholas

Judge Elizabeth Wingo dismissed the case brought against two activists who participated in ongoing Occupy DC demonstrations in front of several Bank of America branches. At the outset of the trial, government counsel told the judge that they were not ready to proceed with the case. The judge then dismissed the charges against Rudy Roberts and Harris Nicholas, who were arrested for blocking passage and failure to obey.

Roberts and Nicholas had been active participants in the Sleepful Protest, overnight occupations at Bank of America branches intended to draw attention to the bank’s foreclosure practices and taking taxpayer bailout money. Police arrested many protestors for blocking sidewalks during the first weeks of the Sleepful Protest in April.

Attorney Jeff Light advises Rudy Roberts, Harris Nicholas and Georgia Pearce on their rights at the Sleepful Protest

UPDATE: So why did the prosecution drop the ball in the Sleepful Protest case? It made “representations” to the judge that it was not ready for trial, but it seems unlikely that lack of preparedness would be the reason that it would let a case slide–especially an Occupy DC case.

The District has been consistently pursuing even trivial charges against protestors affiliated with Occupy DC, and sometimes expends great effort to do so. For example, even though the Assistant AG’s office was abysmally late in filing motions for the OccuBarn trial, to the point that Judge Wingo called it a “gross dereliction of duty,” it got its act together in a hurry when she demanded that a motion be turned in overnight. And Assistant AG Sean Farrelly was well-prepared for trial, parrying each motion and challenge brought by defense counsel Light. And after all this effort, the case was in fact successfully prosecuted; the defendants were found guilty. Trials related to Occupy DC tend to be more high profile than most. That could be one reason the AG’s office pursues these to the bitter end.

Defense counsel Jeff Light said that in the Sleepful Protest case the government had failed to even give him video evidence owed to them. He also said that Peter Saba from DC Attorney General’s Office sent him an email the previous day that the government wasn’t proceeding with the case.

Maybe the AG’s office knew they didn’t have a leg to stand on. That it could be shown, as the defense alleged in its motion, that the police arrested the defendants in retaliation for First Amendment activity and their constitutional rights were violated. That it could be demonstrated that the offenses the defendants were accused of were not in violation of the blocking passage statute as the Metropolitan Police itself defined it when they testified at a City Council meeting last February.

Failure to prepare is not quite the same as dropping charges, so we’re left to ask why. If defendants choose to pursue a civil lawsuit in the coming weeks, maybe the reasons will become more clear.

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