Judge Rejects Prosecutors' Motions To Dismiss Charges Against Protesters Of 'Straight Pride' Parade

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A Suffolk County judge denied motions to dismiss resisting arrest and disorderly conduct charges levied against defendants arrested during Saturday's so-called "Straight Pride" parade, shocking defense attorneys and their clients.

On Tuesday, 18 people were arraigned after being arrested while counter-protesting Saturday's controversial parade and rally. The event featured a gathering of people who claimed to be promoting the heterosexual community, and among the organizers were men with ties to the far-right group the Proud Boys.

Many counter-protesters assembled to condemn the event, calling it at best a mockery of LGBTQ struggles — and at worst a thinly veiled white nationalist gathering.

Most of the counter-protesters arraigned Tuesday faced charges ranging from assault to disorderly conduct — the latter of which is a charge that is typically dismissed in these kinds of situations. Prosecutors in this case motioned to do exactly that.

But Judge Richard Sinnott, a Gov. Charlie Baker appointee, rejected prosecutors' motions to dismiss those charges.

The move has drawn criticism from some legal experts.

Former U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner told WBUR's Radio Boston that Sinnott overstepped his authority by pushing on despite prosecutors' motions for dismissal.

"The prosecutor is in complete charge of the charges that he or she wishes to bring or decline," Gertner, who regularly contributes legal analysis for WBUR, said. "The judge is doing something that is lawless."

Sinnott gave no direct reason for his decisions, other than rhetorically asking why the prosecution didn’t find the offenses serious enough to try.

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins has said her office won't prosecute some low-level charges, opting instead for non-criminal diversion programs or outright dismissals. Gertner said the actions by Sinnott could be seen as pushback against Rollins' directives.

"I think the judge is pushing back, and the judge has no right to do that," Gertner said. "The judge doesn't make criminal justice policy. That's not for him to make."

In all, 36 people were arrested during the demonstrations, including at least one juvenile, whose charges were heard in juvenile court.

"I think the general flavor of the room is that not even the district attorney's office is deeply invested in these cases," said Chris Basso, an attorney representing many of the defendants. "My hope is that my clients and everyone involved will be able to resolve their cases favorably."

Beyond Sinnott, a second judge, Thomas R. Horgan, also presided over arraignments connected to the parade. He too refused prosecutors' motions to dismiss, according to a Boston Globe report.

In a Twitter thread posted Tuesday evening, Rollins said the judges "overstepped" their roles during the arraignments and infringed on the defendants' First Amendment right to protest.

"For those people now tangled in the criminal justice system for exercising their right to free speech—many of whom had no prior criminal record—I will use the legal process to remedy the judge’s overstepping of his role," Rollins wrote.

Not every defendant faced boilerplate protesting charges like resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Several of those arraigned Tuesday were also charged with assault and battery on a police officer.

"Make no mistake: some people were appropriately arraigned and will be held accountable for actions that put the safety of the public and law enforcement at risk," Rollins also wrote.

Larry Calderone, vice president of the Boston Police Patrolman's Association, said he "couldn't be happier with" Sinnott's refusal to dismiss charges. He said four officers are out of work right now because of injuries they sustained while arresting parade counter-protesters.

Calderone and three others from the BPPA were in the court watching the arraignments.

"We're here to make sure that the DA prosecutes all of these offenders to the fullest extent of the law," Calderone said to reporters outside the courthouse. "That's what we're looking for."

He claimed officers "had bottles of urine, bottles of chemicals, bottles of unidentified material and rocks" thrown at them.

Several counter-protesters of the parade have said on social media that police were too aggressive in their use of force, including in their use of pepper spray.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on Tuesday defended the city's response to Saturday's parade and counter-protests, saying it was a difficult balance to keep everyone safe.

"I know there's a lot of conversations about [police] misconduct, and 'was it misconduct?' And certainly we take any complaint about police misconduct seriously," Walsh said.

The judge barred most of those arraigned from visiting downtown Boston until their pretrial hearing. Sinnott made an exception for one woman who has regular medical appointments scheduled to monitor and treat a head injury she said she sustained during her arrest.

Many of those charged will appear before a judge again in November.

This article was originally published on September 03, 2019.

This segment aired on September 3, 2019.

Earlier Coverage:

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Quincy Walters Producer, WBUR Podcasts
Quincy Walters was a producer for WBUR Podcasts.



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