Journalist’s felony indictment draws scrutiny to Inauguration Day arrests
A journalist was arraigned in Washington on Friday over charges stemming from protests on Inauguration Day.
The journalist, Aaron Cantú, was indicted last week by US attorney Channing Phillips on eight charges, including two felony violations of the Riot Act, according to court records.
Cantú was one of several hundreds at the protests in downtown Washington as President Donald Trump ascended to the nation’s highest office.
At the self-described anti-capitalist, anti-fascist protest by the group DisruptJ20, protesters and police clashed as the event grew increasingly heated that afternoon. DC authorities said they arrested 217 people and that six police were injured.
Some of those arrested, including journalists, had their charges dismissed, although a wide-ranging indictment came down in April charging more than 200 people with charges stemming from the protest, including inciting a riot, and several people for assaulting a police officer, expanding on charges laid out in February.
A group of defendants opposing the charges, dubbed DefendJ20, filed a motion to dismiss the felony charges last week. Sam Menefee-Libey, a member of the group of activists and legal support workers helping the defendants, said more than 130 of those charged had pledged not to cooperate with the prosecution in any way that would hurt their co-defendants.
“They understand that the charges are political,” Menefee-Libey said, accusing the prosecution of seeking an overly harsh sentence due to the nature of the protest.
Cantú declined to comment, citing the advice of his lawyers. His lawyers declined to comment on the record. The US attorney’s office offered no comment in response to questions from CNN.
Menefee-Libey said he hoped for a response to the dismissal request before the end of September, when he said their motions are due. He also noted the defendants were at different stages in the judicial process.
Some have already pleaded guilty, including Dane Powell, a Florida man who the US attorney’s office announced in April pleaded guilty to charges of felony rioting and felony assault on a police officer.
According to BuzzFeed News, among those participating in the DefendJ20 non-cooperation pledge is Alexei Wood, a photojournalist who streamed footage of the protests and police on Facebook.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press wrote Phillips, an Obama administration appointee, in late February arguing he should dismiss charges against Cantú, noting other journalists had their charges dropped.
Cantú has written for several outlets, including the Baffler and The Intercept, and is currently a staff writer at the Santa Fe Reporter.
Following Cantú’s arraignment, a status hearing for his case has been scheduled for October 27 along with a motion hearing for April 6. His jury trial is set to begin on October 15, 2018.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to clarify Menefee-Libey’s relationship with DefendJ20.