Charges will not be filed against 323 people who were arrested on the Marion Street and Cedar Street bridges during the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, the St. Paul city attorney’s office announced today.
An additional 20 cases stemming from the mass arrest on the final day of the gathering are still being investigated.
“There was a lot of confusion for a lot of people that night,” said City Attorney John Choi in announcing the decision.
“Ultimately this decision reflects specifically our prosecution standard: Can we prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt at trial? We’ve come to the conclusion that, for the cases involved the Marion Street bridge and the Cedar Street bridge, that would not be the case.”
However, Choi defended the St. Paul Police Department’s decision to arrest nearly 400 people on Sept. 4.
“There was probable cause to arrest, but there wasn’t probable cause to prosecute,” he said. “Those standards are very very different. It is our obligation not to proceed on cases where we believe that we would not succeed at trial.”
Local civil rights activists said the failure to press charges is just the latest evidence that many of the arrests during the RNC were frivolous.
“The reality is that those arrests should never have been made,” said Bruce Nestor, president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
“Much of the alleged disorder is directly attributable to the police presence and police overreaction.”
“They should never have arrested them in the first place,” added Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “I believe that they were arbitrary and capricious arrests.”
The city attorney’s office has now processed roughly 90 percent of the 672 potential misdemeanor cases stemming from RNC activities. Of those cases, 52 have resulted in guilty pleas or fines. An equal number of cases are currently pending in the court system. However, the overwhelming majority of arrests — 490 — have either not resulted in charges or the cases have been dismissed by the courts.
So far no civil litigation has been brought against the city for police actions during the four-day gathering. Anti-war protester Mick Kelly has sent the city a letter stating his intent to sue for alleged civil rights violations, but has yet to file a case.
The city has a $10 million insurance policy, paid for by the Minneapolis St. Paul 2008 Host Committee, to cover litigation costs. However, numerous lawsuits are expected in the coming months.
“We’ve got a bunch of cases we’re looking at,” said Samuelson.
“Attorneys have been engaged in active information gathering in consideration of civil litigation related to the pattern of mass arrests and excessive use of police force,” Nestor confirmed. “I would think that planning can now go forward.”