The Bloomington city attorney has dismissed some charges against Black Lives Matter protesters stemming from a large Dec. 20 demonstration at the Mall of America, lawyers said Wednesday.
Other charges remain in effect against the alleged organizers of the protest.
Meanwhile, the prosecutor expressed annoyance with the defense team for trying its case in the media.
Black Lives Matters issued a statement Wednesday criticizing the ongoing prosecution of the alleged organizers of the protest, which drew more than 2,000 people to the mall on the last Saturday before Christmas to protest the killings of unarmed black men by police in New York City and Ferguson, Mo.
“Judge [Peter] Cahill admonished us to be very careful not to discuss the facts of the case,” Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson said Wednesday. “I did not expect a big news release and a premature declaration of victory.”
“It’s sad to think how much time and money is being wasted by the city of Bloomington to ‘make an example’ out of us, especially in light of the seriousness of police shootings of unarmed black people in this country,” said Nekima Levy-Pounds, who is among those charged with organizing the protests. Levy-Pounds recently was elected president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP.
The city recently amended its complaints against 11 people believed to have organized the protest. The city dropped trespass charges against the 11 defendants, but kept misdemeanor charges of aiding and abetting trespass, aiding and abetting unlawful assembly, and aiding and abetting disorderly conduct.
Johnson said the trespass charges were dropped because prosecutors couldn’t prove those individuals disobeyed direct orders to leave the Mall of America. Police and mall security had ordered the crowd to disperse, but not to depart. There’s a legal distinction between the two terms, she said.
Some 26 individual protesters later were specifically ordered to leave the premises and refused, police and prosecutors say. Those people have been charged with misdemeanors. One has already been convicted, and charges against two have been dropped. The others await trial.
It’s common for prosecutors to amend charges, Johnson said. “We do it all the time. Every ethical prosecutor does that as you move more and more into the evidence.”
Bruce Nestor, attorney for five of the alleged organizers, said the state’s aiding and abetting charges represent a dangerous attack on First Amendment rights to free speech.
“I think it’s a novel and unconstitutional legal theory,” he said. “That threatens the organizer of any demonstration, anywhere. If anyone behaves in a way the police don’t agree with, they will file aiding and abetting charges.”
The demonstration was peaceful until more than 200 police officers “arrived in their riot gear” and intimidated the crowd, Nestor said.
“I’m not trying to condemn them,” he said. “They’re trained to act that way. They try to look intimidating and forceful. They link their arms, they stamp their feet.
“If the police react to something forcefully, and that creates commotion and disorder, that can lead to charging people with the commotion and disorder that’s caused by the police response,” Nestor said.