A D.C. Superior Court judge overseeing the cases of more than 200 protesters arrested during the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Trump said Tuesday that prosecutors must begin informing defendants of the precise allegations against them — and how the government intends to prove each person’s involvement in the chaotic riots.
During an arraignment in D.C. Superior Court for 16 people charged with felony rioting, Judge Lynn Leibovitz told prosecutors that she expects that defendants and their attorneys will be provided with detailed evidence. Though the government has alleged some specific crimes, it so far has largely lumped the protesters together.
“I want you to provide each video and how the government identifies each defendant and point to where that defendant is being identified,” Leibovitz told Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff. The judge said the prosecution should begin handing over that evidence by next month.
Kerkhoff said prosecutors were uploading multiple hours of police body camera footage of the riots. Leibovitz reiterated that defense attorneys need specific information on their client’s alleged roles “by any means necessary.”
Last month, prosecutors indicted 214 people on felony rioting charges. One of those people also was charged with assaulting police officers. Others were linked to specific damage, including the torching of a limousine and the smashing of windows at a McDonald’s restaurant and a Starbucks coffee shop. Six police officers were injured.
In coming weeks, dozens of those indicted will appear in court for their arraignments.
Leibovitz has not set a trial date but did schedule hearings for April.
In court Tuesday, 16 defendants — sitting in the jury box — pleaded not guilty. Several of those charged asked whether they could waive their appearance at their next court hearing because they live far from the District, including in Chicago, Pittsburgh and Vermont, and traveling to Washington is challenging.
Leibovitz denied their request and ordered each defendant to return for all hearings.
“You are charged with a serious offense, a felony, and it is important that you are here for all proceedings,” she said.
Identifying and proving each defendant’s purported role in the riots, defense attorneys have long argued, will be a challenge for the prosecution. Many of the protesters were wearing masks or had scarves over their faces.
According to the indictment, some protesters were armed with hammers, crowbars, bricks, rocks, flares and firecrackers. The group, prosecutors said in the indictment, “cheered and celebrated the violence and destruction.”
One attorney, Patrice Sulton, repeatedly requested that the judge require prosecutors to share evidence on behalf of her client.
“It is physically impossible for every person charged to have engaged in all of the wrongdoing alleged in the indictment,” Sulton said.
Of the 231 people arrested during the inauguration, 214 have been indicted. Prosecutors dropped charges against 16 people, including some journalists. Felony rioting carries a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.