Prosecutors Describe A ‘Sea Of Black Masks’ As They Open Felony Trial Of Inauguration Protesters

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WASHINGTON They might not have actually broken any windows, set any fires, tossed any rocks or tossed any bricks. A United States district attorney here Monday informed a jury that 6 offenders dealing with felony charges in connection with the demonstrations and trouble surrounding President Donald Trump ’ s inauguration in January should have to be discovered guilty of a number of felony criminal activities that would expose them to possible sentences of years in jail.

Six accuseds Jennifer Armento, Alexei Wood, Oliver Harris, Michelle Macchio, Brittne Lawson and Christina Simmons were amongst the 234 individuals jailed en masse throughout demonstrations on Jan. 20, typically described as the J20 demonstrations. They’ re the very first group to go to trial , and their case might identify whether district attorneys continue pursuing felony rioting charges versus the almost 200 individuals who have actually trials expanded during the next year.

In a remarkable opening declaration, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff consistently described a “ sea of black masks ” that wandered the city triggering violence, turmoil and damage. Authorities have actually stated there was more than $100,000 in residential or commercial property damage that day. The prosecution’ s very first witness was the supervisor of a downtown Au Bon Pain coffee shop that had its windows broken.

Kerkhoff, in her opening declaration, informed the stories of people who were working downtown that day and were impacted by the discontent: a Starbucks employee who needed to “ dive for cover ” as a window was smashed; a store owner who was ravaged to discover her own window broken; a limo chauffeur whose car was set on fire after the offenders had actually been apprehended; and law enforcement officers who felt “ powerless ” as the big group overran the downtown location.

Kerkhoff informed the jurors that the 6 accuseds “ decided ” to participate in a harmful and violent riot, arguing they “ had many chances to leave, to state this was excessive, this isn’ t what I registeredfor, thisisn ’ t what I ’ m going to do, this isn ’ t how I ’ m going to reveal my viewpoint. ”

Instead, she stated, the offenders opted to remain, and “ assisted this course of damage through the city, ” moving together with the group as specific members popped out, triggered damage and were “ reabsorbed ” into the enormous group.

Bryan Woolston/ Reuters
Protesters toss rocks at cops throughout a demonstration near the inauguration of President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2017.

“ Each of them decided, and each of them contributed, ” Kerkhoff stated. “ You wear ’ t personally need to be the one who breaks the window to be guilty of rioting.”

Kerkhoff declared that even as the offenders saw the damage members of the group were triggering, they stuck with the group till they were assembled by authorities. “ Each of these accuseds still stated ‘ I ’ m in. ’ ‘ Let ’ s keep going, I ’ m in, ’ ” she stated. Declaring that a person of the offenders was masked, she included: “ That mask comes off today.”

Several lawyers for the 6 accuseds, on the other hand, informed the jury there was not proof that their customers took part in any damage. They were indiscriminately dealt with by authorities, with offenders ’ lawyers declaring that the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department which is dealing with a claim for its methods that day broke its own policies by “ kettling ” a big group of individuals. It’ s a lot easier to deal with everybody the exact same, call the demonstration a riot, and lock everybody up, instead of adhere to the First Amendment, one legal representative argued.

Steven McCool, who was representing Harris, recommended the charges were being pursued since groups like the American Civil Liberties Union would take legal action against the cops department, and the federal government would lose. “ They wish to found guilty everybody they trap, ” McCool stated.

Adrees Latif/ Reuters
Protesters showing versus Trump raise their hands as they are surrounded by cops on the sidelines of the inauguration in Washington, Jan. 20, 2017.

Defense lawyers prepared jurors to see great deals of videos revealing the damage from that day, however stated it was necessary for them to bear in mind that the federal government wouldn’ t have the ability to show their customers participated in it.

Tammy Jacques, representing Christina Simmons, stated that her customer was “ jailed for something she did refrain from doing, ” and noted this was the very first governmental election Simmons was old sufficient to enact. “ She remained in the District of Columbia doing exactly what she deserved to do. The right to demonstration, ” Jacques stated.

Brett Cohen remained in court representing Alexei Wood , whose case has actually drawn specific attention since the 37-year-old videographer and professional photographer stated he existed in his capability as a photojournalist.

Kerkhoff stated in her opening that anybody can be a professional photographer in this day and age due to the fact that of innovation. She stated that Wood did not conceal his face, and darkly alerted that Wood’ s Facebook livestream, an essential piece of federal government proof in the event, was readily available on the web for “ anybody that wished to see. ” Kerkhoff stated jurors would see Wood “ cheering when the damage occurs ” and “ commemorating ” when somebody was struck in the groin with a rock.

Ryan J. Reilly/HuffPost
Alexei Wood stands outdoors D.C. Superior Court.

Cohen, Wood’ s lawyer, painted a various photo, stating his case was “ a bit various ” than the others since it “ includes the right to a totally free press. ” Wood is an expert photographer , primarily dealing with wedding events and business photography, Cohen stated. He established an interest in photojournalism in current years. “ He ’ s independent, he ’ s up-and-coming, and he ’ s developing a resume, ” Cohen stated. Heargued, it madesense for Wood to participate in the inauguration, a best chance to advance his work.

Cohen stated that Wood might have stated things on the livestream that are “ disagreeable, ” however he didn ’ t do anything prohibited. Cohen likewise stated Wood ’ s remarks, which seemed helpful of the home damage, were directed at the audience viewing the livestream, not individuals out on the street.

Anadolu Agency by means of Getty Images
A policeman fires a beanbag round at anti-Trump protesters, Jan. 20, 2017.

The federal government, Cohen stated, would need to show that Wood’ s declarations or responses were made with the intent of advancing the riot and the damage of residential or commercial property. District attorneys have actually dropped charges versus 7 of the 9 reporters jailed in the kettle that day.

Kerkhoff stated that individuals are enabled to feel and have feelings exactly what they desire, however that this case wasn’ t about that. It was, she stated, about the accuseds ’ option to stick to a group that triggered trouble in downtown D.C.

“ That is why we ’ re here. Violence and damage was an option, ” Kerkhoff stated. “ And they chose that day to take part in it.”

Ryan Reilly is HuffPost’ s senior justice press reporter, covering criminal justice, federal police and legal affairs. Have a suggestion? Reach him at or on Signal at 202-527-9261.

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