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Crime & Justice

Attorneys For Charlotte Protesters Call For DA To Dismiss Charges After Months Of Inaction

Steve Harrison
Protesters kneel in uptown Charlotte on June 4, 2020.

A group of Charlotte defense attorneys has sent a letter to the Mecklenburg County district attorney asking him to either dismiss or address numerous protest-related charges that are still pending more than eight months after the 2020 protests in Charlotte.

The letter to District Attorney Spencer Merriweather says many of those arrested at the 2020 protests have had their court dates delayed by months during the pandemic, and the pending charges have made it difficult for their clients to find jobs or housing.

"Unemployment is at a record high and many of our clients have lost their jobs or stable housing. Some are now in the seemingly impossible position whereby they are seeking employment or housing during a pandemic with lingering criminal charges," the letter states.

The attorneys also argue many of the arrests were made in violation of the First and Fourth Amendment rights of people who came to the protests to express themselves and vent their frustrations.

"A lot of these [cases] may not even have the legal standing to move forward," said attorney Darlene Harris, who helped write the letter and shared it with WFAE. "If we're delaying someone's livelihood on a charge that has no legal standing, that's a huge miscarriage of justice."

Police arrested 132 people at the protests in Charlotte between May 29 and June 10, 2020, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. An analysis by WFAE found 112 people were charged with misdemeanors, many of them failure to disperse and resisting a public officer. Another eight people were charged with traffic violations, and 10 were charged with felonies. Two others were arrested on warrants for past felony charges.

In addition, 43 people were arrested by local sheriff's deputies at a jail support station outside the Mecklenburg County jail on June 18. The sheriff's office identified 40 of those people to WFAE; all of them were charged with misdemeanors.

In previous statements to WFAE, the Mecklenburg County District Attorney's Office acknowledged it likely will not pursue many misdemeanor charges stemming from the 2020 protests.

"As we begin to address pending misdemeanors, cases that involve damage to property or violence against others are likely to be prioritized. It is not likely that we will proceed on many other misdemeanor cases, and that is not limited to the events of May and June," the DA's office wrote in an earlier statement.

However, the DA's office has provided no timeline for when cases may be dismissed.

When asked for comment on the attorneys' letter, a spokesperson for the DA's office referred to the earlier statement.

The attorneys concluded their correspondence to Merriweather by encouraging him to "dismiss those cases you plan to dismiss without further delay."

They also offered to help the office as it reviews protest-related cases and assist in any way possible to "expedite the dismissal or resolution of these cases."