Defending Rights and Dissent Statement on DC Police Settlement With Trump Inauguration Protesters

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April 26, 2021

The Metropolitan Police Department has settled two separate civil suits stemming from their arrest of Trump Inauguration (“J20”) protesters. The police have agreed to pay out $1.6 million to the plaintiffs, not challenge their requests to expunge their arrest records, and modify police policies for processing arrests. 

Defending Rights & Dissent repeatedly condemned the police’s conduct during J20, as well as the US Attorney Office’s ensuing prosecution. In an unprecedented move, prosecutors attempted to argue that a protest constituted a criminal conspiracy. Mere attendance at a protest, per the prosecutors, made one collectively guilty for any acts that any other individuals at the protest may have committed. This theory was rejected by DC juries and eventually the prosecution’s remaining cases collapsed due to prosecutorial misconduct. 

These prosecutions were the fruit of an illegal, unconstitutional arrest. Allegedly, some protesters during an anti-capitalist, anti-fascist march participated in property destruction. Police responded by surrounding the entire march and arresting everyone in the cordoned off area. The over 200 people arrested included not just protesters engaged in First Amendment protected activity, but journalists, legal observers, and medics. This practice, known as “kettling,” is inherently unconstitutional. An arrest requires individual probable cause that the person being arrested has engaged in illegal conduct. A mass arrest at a protest not only lacks individualized probable cause, but is a direct assault on the First Amendment rights of those swept up in the arrest for no other reason than being present at a protest.

The attacks on the J20 protests were part of a nationwide crackdown on the right to protest, that is ongoing. Defending Rights & Dissent calls for the MPD and all police to respect the right to protest.