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Arapahoe County DA withdraws dozens of charges against peaceful protest leaders

The following statement was issued by the National Committee for Justice in Denver.

On April 4, the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office of John Kellner moved to dismiss several major charges against Terrance Roberts, Joel Northam, and Lillian House. All 16 felony counts in Arapahoe County and several misdemeanor charges against the peaceful protest leaders were thrown out.

The dismissal of a large number of charges, including all felonies in Arapahoe County, is a significant step in the right direction, showing an acknowledgment from District Attorney John Kellner’s office that this case is unjustified. The extremely serious charging of these peaceful protest leaders is widely understood as a political prosecution aimed at silencing the movement for justice for Elijah McClain.

Joel Northam and Lillian House faced eight felonies and 10 misdemeanors each in Arapahoe County; Terrance Roberts faced eight misdemeanors — all related to peaceful protests including several marches and a car caravan. Northam and House still face multiple misdemeanors that could carry jail sentences of more than four years, and Roberts faces one misdemeanor carrying up to a year in jail.

While certainly a meaningful step towards justice from DA John Kellner, the downgrading of this political prosecution is not enough. Not a single charge would have been filed were it not part of a punitive attack initiated by the prior administrations against protest leaders who challenged the impunity of the police.

Continuing to force these peaceful protesters through a grueling court process on charges that could still carry years in jail is an abuse of the court system and an affront to the community of Aurora, justified in protesting for justice for Elijah McClain. The targeted organizers played a critical role in channeling the righteous outrage of the community into an effective and peaceful movement that made important steps towards justice for the community of Aurora.

The protesters remain criminally charged for protests that helped bring international attention to the murder of Elijah McClain by Aurora Police and the subsequent coverup by the department and local officials. The protests successfully compelled important investigations that have confirmed serious wrongdoing in the death of Elijah McClain and failures of accountability at multiple levels within APD and the city leadership. It is the embarrassment caused by these protests — not the commission of any crimes — that triggered this retaliatory prosecution.

We continue to call on both prosecuting District Attorneys John Kellner and Brian Mason to drop ALL charges against the leaders of the peaceful protests for justice for Elijah McClain. While the charges were filed by their predecessors, George Brauchler and Dave Young, any continuation of the criminal prosecution perpetuates this miscarriage of justice.

In Adams County, Northam, House, Roberts and Eliza Lucero continue to face numerous serious felony and misdemeanor charges carrying as many as 13.5 years in prison for a peaceful protest held July 3 at the Aurora District 1 police station. Last month, Adams County Court Judge Leroy Kirby threw out the charge of attempted kidnapping of 18 police officers that Northam, House, and Lucero faced. Judge Kirby found that all evidence showed that these protesters had not engaged in any violence, that they were engaged in peaceful protest and dispersed when ordered, and that officers had freedom of movement throughout the protest. Seventeenth Judicial District Attorney Brian Mason has yet to address the injustice of continuing forward with the other charges despite the judge’s ruling.

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