Author: Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.
By PoliceOne Staff
WASHINGTON — The Washington D.C. police chief is calling for a change to the district’s rioting law after there were no jury convictions in the inauguration day riots.
On Jan. 20, 2017, police said people dressed in black, and masked to conceal their identities, started rioting in protest of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, WTOP reported. D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said 234 people were arrested. Officials said more than $100,000 in damage was caused to a number of public and private properties.
Of the 234 arrested, 214 were indicted for felonies and misdemeanors, with each facing up to 70 years in prison. But not one single defendant was found guilty by juries in the D.C. Superior Court.
Newsham told WTOP that the district should “consider taking a look at the statute for rioting and maybe adjusting that in a way that protects our city.”
Out of the more than 200 arrests, 21 defendants pleaded guilty before trial, and one served four months in jail for throwing rocks and bricks at police, and shattering windows. After the first six defendants to go on trial were found not guilty, charges were dropped against more than 150 others.
In a second trial, in which no defendants were convicted, jurors said prosecutors failed to prove that people in that trial were personally responsible for property damages or personal injuries.
“No judicial officers or judges who heard any of the cases ever suggested there wasn’t probable cause for the arrests,” said Newsham. “Making a case (at trial) beyond a reasonable doubt is a much higher standard.”
Police and prosecutors said the masks and black clothing made it difficult to identify the smaller number of people who wielded bricks and crowbars.
“Essentially what they were doing was facilitating the illegal behavior, and whenever you make a facilitation case, that’s a difficult case for prosecutors to make,” Newsham said, adding that establishing probable cause for facilitating a crime “is much easier than establishing it beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The chief said the district’s rioting statute should be tweaked to enable facilitation cases.
“I haven’t run into a person yet that wasn’t absolutely appalled by the images they saw in Washington, D.C., that day, by a small number of people,” said Newsham. “I don’t think anyone has a tolerance for that.”