The State’s Attorney’s office declined to pursue charges against sixteen students and their supporters who were arrested during a sit in at city hall earlier this month.
At the district courthouse on North Avenue Thursday morning, fifteen of those arrested were told that their cases were being dismissed. Another protester’s case was dismissed on Friday.
The protesters staged their occupation of a city council meeting room on October 14th to draw attention to what they characterize as heavy-handed treatment by police of peaceful demonstrations outside recent hearings in the Freddie Gray case. They focused their criticism on Kevin Davis, beginning the protest at the close of a city council committee hearing on his permanent appointment to the post of police commissioner.
At 3 a.m. the following morning, about eight hours after the sit-in began, a small army of police, including several high-ranking officers, descended on the building to take the 16 protesters into custody, who were charged with trespassing.
“That was a statement on the police’s behalf that they were going to come down hard, bringing 100 officers for 16 protesters, but at the end of the day I don’t think the state’s attorney was willing to go through with the effort of prosecuting 16 protesters for nothing,” said Ralikh Hayes, one of the protestors arrested that night.
A spokesperson for the state’s attorney’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.
Standing outside the courthouse, protester ShaiVaughn Crawley, whose case was dismissed last week, said that with the court case behind them, he and the other protesters look forward to continuing to challenge police practices in the city.
“It feels good to know that we are free and that though [Davis] is still commissioner, we still have fighting to do and we have the liberty to do so,” Crawley said.
The quick and relatively painless resolution of the cases of the “City Hall Sixteen,” as they came to be known on social media, is the latest victory for the city’s justice reform activists.
Two weeks ago a jury found Larry Lomax not guilty of disorderly conduct charges brought in connection with an encounter between Lomax and police on May 2nd, during the unrest that followed Freddie Gray’s death. Lomax challenged Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s recently imposed curfew, and dared an officer to arrest him. Video of Lomax being pepper sprayed and dragged to the ground by his hair went viral. Lomax had initially been charged with inciting a riot and second-degree assault, but prosecutors declined to pursue those charges. Activists rallied around Lomax’s case, attending this month’s trial to show their support.
Hayes said on Thursday that one factor distinguishing the City Hall protest cases, which were rapidly dismissed, from that of Lomax, who was taken all the way to trial, was that his group was highly organized and relatively well connected.
“It’s really rare that you have protesters that are actually attached to organizations that are willing to fight this through to the end. That’s the strength of organizations. We’re all united in this and we have the capacity to create a really big uproar around this if necessary. I think they feared that,” Hayes said.
Court dates are still pending for two high-profile arrests connected with the Freddie Gray trial, both of which helped spur the City Hall sit-in.
During a march down Pratt and Calvert Streets on Sep. 2, the day of the first Freddie Gray pre-trial motion hearing, activist Darius Rosebrough, aka Kwame Rose, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and second-degree assault after a traffic altercation in which Rose says he was struck by a car.
A week later police arrested Pastor Westley West during a bible study at his church and charged him with six separate counts including inciting a riot, malicious destruction of property, and false imprisonment, a felony. Police said the arrest was made after they analyzed aerial video showing West jaywalking across Pratt and stopping traffic during the same march.