Just before year-end, Sara Kropf and her client got the best holiday gift ever – an acquittal of all charges. Sara, a Washington, D.C. defense attorney, was representing a street medic charged with rioting and destruction of property stemming from protests held during President Trump’s January 20, 2017 inauguration. Noting that her client attended the protests armed with bandages, Sara was quoted by Washington’s Tops News as stating, “According to the government, showing up with a fanny pack with Band Aids… is equivalent to the people who smashed the Starbucks window.”
Sara’s inspirational closing argument was featured in news articles around the world. A Washington Post article said Sara focused on a police radio report where a commander identified the demonstrators as “anarchists” and quoted her as stating“[t]his is about politics,” before the six-person D.C. Superior Court jury acquitted all the defendants on the felony charges on December 21. “This is about police and local prosecutors who work for the Department of Justice. And we know who they report to,” she said, referring to President Trump.
The defendants included a nurse, a freelance photographer and a college student who were among more than 200 protesters arrested in a police round-up northeast of the White House. During the daylong protest, vandals had caused an estimated $100,000 in property damage, according to the government. Eventually, prosecutors charged 212 people in connection with the protests. Twenty pleaded guilty, and charges were dropped against another 20.
In this case, federal prosecutors failed to link the six defendants with any violent or destructive acts. Instead, they argued that they had “provided cover” for the vandalism – an argument immediately challenged by Kropf and her colleagues on the defense side. For example, they showed that the social media posts and “likes” of a detective who was one of the government’s key witnesses were critical of social protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. They also noted that the commanding officer of the police did not give a dispersal order to the protesters before encircling and arresting them – contrary to the department’s standard procedure.
Most importantly, the defense attorneys pointed out that there was no evidence that any of the six participants had broken windows, caused property damage or encouraged others to commit illegal acts.
Even before the government presented the case to the jury, Judge Lynn Leibovitz threw out the most serious charge – inciting a riot. However, it took two full days of deliberations after the nearly four-week trial before the not guilty verdicts were delivered.
As Kropf said in her closing, “All the government proved was that these individuals showed up and walked as protesters. And that is not a crime.” We will always need lawyers and citizens willing to stand up against government over-reach. That is what happened here. What a courageous victory for both Sara Kropf and her client. Huge congrats!