Few arrested protesters being prosecuted

Fewer than one in five cases are being pursued by the DA. The rest, involving less-serious charges, have been dropped.

Authorities are prosecuting fewer than a quarter of the 54 protesters arrested in racial justice demonstrations staged in and around Buffalo since late May.

Most of the charges initially brought against protesters were for nonviolent incidents like violating a curfew, disorderly conduct and harassment in the second degree. More serious charges included arson, aggravated assault of a police officer and criminal possession of a weapon.

Most who were arrested have had their charges dismissed.

Here’s the breakdown: 

  • 32 protesters had their charges dismissed by a judge.
  • 11 received adjournments in contemplation of dismissal, or ACDs.
  • 10 are headed toward prosecution.
  • 1 awaits arraignment.

The more serious cases are the ones moving through the justice system. They include some high-profile cases, one involving Courtland Renford, who is accused of throwing a burning trash bin through a City Hall window, and Deyanna Davis, charged with driving through a line of law enforcement officers in a SUV.

“There’s a demarcation line here … whatever you do up until here is fine, but if you cross that line, you’re going to be held accountable for it,” said John Flynn, Erie County District Attorney. “And what you’re held accountable for depends on how far you cross that line.” 

Defendants facing lesser charges have been dismissed by a judge or received an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, or ACD, meaning charges will be dropped if the defendant stays out of legal trouble for a period of time, typically six months.

“You make it a little inconvenient for the person,” Flynn said. “They get arrested, have to come back to court. You make it pinch but you don’t make it hurt.”

Kevin Stadelmeier with the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo argued all interactions with the criminal justice system hurt a defendant. Even appearing in court for a case to be dismissed or to receive an ACD can affect a defendant’s employment status. 

“None of it, in my estimation, would pinch,” said Stadelmeier. “All of it is harmful…and if we’re simply arresting people for their freedom and rights of expression.”

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Marie Taylor was one of the 13 people arrested in Niagara Square in June, as police dispersed a group that had been camping out for almost two weeks. While charges against Taylor and others arrested the same night were dismissed, she noted it was an inconvenience to show up to court and stressful to worry about the outcome of her arrest as the court date approached.

Taylor, along with most of the people arrested alongside her that night, continued protesting, even as they awaited their day in court. 

“There’s nothing I am doing wrong,” said Taylor. “We are not involved with any of the violent actions. We are just standing up for what we believe in.” 

Many of the cases, including Taylor’s, were dismissed because police submitted incomplete arrest reports or did not substantiate the charges filed against defendants. Stadlemeier said some were arrested simply for exercising their First Amendment Rights.

“The majority were dismissed because the allegations were insufficient,” Stadlemeier said.

Flynn is also prosecuting two Buffalo police officers on felony assault charges. They are charged with pushing a protester, Martin Gugino, who struck his head in front of City Hall and suffered serious head injuries. The DA is also prosecuting a Franklinville man on charges he pulled a knife on demonstrators near M.T. Pockets.