Just before the first federal case went to trial, the first Ramsey County RNC trial ended in dismissal of all charges against seven defendants on January 23. Judge Michael Fetsch dismissed the charges at the end of the prosecution’s case, ruling that even if the jury believed all of the prosecution’s evidence, there was not sufficient evidence to support a conviction. The charges, which included obstruction of legal process, disorderly conduct, unlawful assembly and blocking traffic, cannot be refiled. The seven defendants in this trial were arrested on September 1 on charges of blocking the intersection at 9th and Wacouta in downtown St. Paul by using bungee cords and string.
“This was the City of St. Paul’s showcase trial — the first RNC case to go to trial and one in which the City consolidated the trials of all seven defendants. Unfortunately for the City, however, it showcased how police had no basis for the vast majority of arrests made during the RNC,” said defense counsel Jordan Kushner, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild.
The federal trial, which began January 26, involves charges that two Texans made Molotov cocktails and planned to use them to injure police or buildings during the RNC. The first Texan, Bradley Crowder, pleaded guilty in January and is still awaiting sentencing. The second, David McKay, is now on trial, with the outcome turning on what the jury believes about FBI informant Brandon Darby. McKay’s attorney, Jeff Degree, told the jury in his opening statement that, “This is a case of a government informant who took it upon himself to make things happen.” He described Darby as egging on activists, calling them “a bunch of tofu-eaters” who needed to eat meat and bulk up for action.
More than 800 people were arrested during the convention. Of these, only 24 have been charged with felonies.
Federal felony charges were filed against McKay and Crowder and Matthew DePalma, who pleaded guilty in October to charges involving possession of Molotov cocktails.
State felony charges were filed against the RNC 8, alleging conspiracy in support of terrorism. Other state felony charges were filed against an additional 13 people. These cases are handled by Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner’s office. Two people have pleaded guilty so far. One defendant pleaded guilty to slashing bus tires, and received a sentence of probation and community service. The other pleaded guilty to breaking a bank window and has not yet been sentenced. Charges against a third defendant were dismissed when it became clear that the person was not guilty. That leaves ten felony charges pending trial, in addition to the RNC 8.
The case of the RNC 8 was set for trial before Judge Salvador Rosas, who has now recused himself, without stating any reason. That means that a new judge will have to be assigned and a new trial date set.
The bulk of the arrests were sent to the St. Paul city attorney’s office to be reviewed for misdemeanor charges. St. Paul city attorney John Choi’s office has decided that hundreds of those arrested should be dismissed without any criminal charges. His office has decided to file misdemeanor charges in about 70 cases, though the review is not yet complete and more charges could be filed.
Bruce Nestor, an attorney representing some RNC defendants, said some people have accepted plea bargains with a continuance for dismissal, in order to avoid the time and expense of going to trial. “Some folks said if you’re going to pay eighty bucks and let it go off my record in a year, I can’t pass that up,” he said, noting that going to trial involves considerable expense and time, especially for out-of-state residents.