President Trump has blamed the far-left antifa movement for infiltrating demonstrations across the country, and Attorney General William P. Barr has blamed looting and rioting on “outside radicals and agitators” intent on pursuing an “extremist agenda.”
But the cases in the nation’s capital, at least so far, do not show any organized effort to disrupt the largely peaceful demonstrations, Karl A. Racine, the District’s attorney general, said in an interview.
“Having received a number of the police complaints and reviewing files, we have not seen any indication that any individual who was arrested, or served with a citation, was a member of an extremist left-wing group like antifa,” Racine said. “We have no evidence to support the statements of Attorney General Barr.”
Officials have said investigations are continuing and additional arrests are possible.
Between May 30 and Friday morning, D.C. police arrested 430 people for various crimes during the daily demonstrations, according to the most recent D.C. police data. Two dozen people in that group were 17 or younger.
Federal prosecutors weighed evidence in 105 cases where the allegations could result in a criminal case in D.C. Superior Court or federal court, according to a Justice Department official.
They ultimately charged 80 people with crimes in D.C. Superior Court and six people with federal crimes in U.S. District Court, the official said. Some other cases were dropped.
The remaining 325 curfew violation cases were transferred to the District’s Office of the Attorney General. That office on June 11 said it had decided to pursue cases against four of those people believed to be involved in other crimes. On June 16, the office said it had dismissed 23 cases.
Racine said other charges were under review and prosecutors would not pursue cases in which there is no evidence the defendant committed any other crimes. He said he expected that to be the majority of remaining cases.
Forty-five percent of those arrested live in Washington, according to police data. Maryland residents made up 31 percent of the arrestees and Virginia residents made up 13 percent. About 3 percent live in other states, and the addresses of the rest were not known.
Considering thousands of people converged on Washington for nearly two weeks, law enforcement officials said the demonstrators were largely peaceful.
“The number of arrests are relatively slight compared to the number of people who regularly gathered in large numbers during those days,” Racine said.
According to police data, 63 percent of charges filed were for violating the curfew Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) implemented over four days to curb nighttime crime. Felony rioting charges made up the second-biggest group with 11 percent of the charges. Burglary rounded out the top with 10 percent of the overall charges.
During the first week of arrests when the majority of charges were filed, Michael R. Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the District, said his office ultimately chose to not pursue rioting charges and instead focused on counts involving assault, property damage or burglary, where prosecutors felt the evidence was clear.
“I did not authorize any of those individuals to be charged with rioting. I think that’s a very gray area, a very dangerous area that bleeds into protesting, and what is First Amendment [protected] and what is not,” Sherwin said in a June 5 statement to The Washington Post. “But what we did charge and will continue to charge is any and all acts of violence, physical aggression and property damage — such conduct will never be condoned or accepted in the District.”
Sherwin’s office on Friday declined to say whether it had uncovered any evidence that extremist groups sought to sow unrest at the demonstrations. On June 3, a Justice Department official said prosecutors were investigating such reports in the District but had not found evidence of such affiliations.
The nationwide civil unrest was sparked by the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old, unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes while restraining him. Three other police officers stood nearby, and the incident was captured on multiple cellphone cameras by traumatized onlookers. All four officers have since been charged with murder in Floyd’s death.
On May 31, after two days of protests outside the White House and before Chauvin was charged, Trump in a tweet blamed the antifa movement for infiltrating the demonstrations to provoke violence. Barr later elaborated in his own statement that the looting and rioting across the nation were due to “outside radicals and agitators . . . exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate, violent, and extremist agenda.”
Between May 27 and Friday, law enforcement in 48 U.S. cities had arrested more than 14,000 people during protest-related arrests, according to a Washington Post tally of data provided by police departments and media reports. In several cities that released the addresses of those arrested, the vast majority of them lived in or around the areas where the protests were held.
There is no national database of the total number of arrests or the types of charges that protesters are facing.
But a review of police records and media reports reveals that thousands of protesters were arrested for curfew violations and other minor charges, such as obstructing a roadway or carrying an open container. Nearly 90 of 117 people arrested in Cleveland through June 6 were cited with failing to comply with a police order. In San Francisco, 153 people were arrested for violating curfew since protests began until the most recent arrest on June 7. Another 110 people were arrested for looting or burglary.
As in the District, lead prosecutors in other areas across the country have announced plans to drop some minor charges against protesters in cities including Pittsburgh, New York and Houston.
At the forefront of the minds of prosecutors and police in the District was avoiding a repeat of the mass arrests made during rioting the day of President Trump’s 2017 inauguration.
During court proceedings in the inauguration cases, prosecutors alleged that a group called Disrupt J20 helped plan the protests that pulled in participants from across the country. They said some rioters used “black bloc” tactics — wearing all black and hiding their faces with masks so it would be harder to identify them. Defendants and their attorneys argued that law-abiding demonstrators were wrongly swept up by police. More than 200 people were arrested and the case ended with only 21 convictions.
Amid the recent protests, defense attorneys said they worried that law enforcement would believe the covid-19 masks that demonstrators wore would be seen as a repeat of the black bloc, face-hiding tactic. But such concerns so far have not materialized as charging documents for those demonstrators charged never mentioned the masks.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that 321 curfew violation cases had been dismissed. The Office of D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine said on June 16 that it had dismissed 23 cases and that prosecutors were reviewing the remaining cases. The office said those would be dropped in instances where there was no evidence the defendant committed other crimes.
Jenn Abelson, Nicole Dungca, Austin R. Ramsey, Jacob Wallace, Verónica Del Valle and Christopher Casey contributed to this report.