PORTLAND — A court hearing could reactivate criminal charges against 17 protesters arrested during a July 15, 2016, Portland Racial Justice Congress rally.
Attorney Jon Gale, who represents city resident Alba Briggs, on Monday said no court date has been set to hear a motion by the Cumberland County district attorney’s office to place the cases on an active criminal docket.
“We will object to them restoring it to the docket,” Gale said.
The renewed prosecution became possible after plea agreement meetings scheduled Feb. 1 between the protesters, City Police Chief Michael Sauschuck and Cumberland County Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Ackerman were cancelled.
Sauschuck and Ackerman said two planned morning and afternoon meetings with protesters were halted after the protesters demanded to meet as a single group at the First Parish Church on Congress Street.
“Unfortunately, the chief and I arrived and it became apparent they were not coming to the table with the terms in mind,” Ackerman said in a Feb. 1 press conference at the DA’s office.
The adults arrested with Briggs, 26, after blocking Commercial Street during a rally in support of the Black Lives Matter movement were Idman Abdul, 22; Mariana Angelo, 20; Sable Knapp, 26; Kennedy Johnson, 22; Caitlin Vaughan, 29; Sarah Lazar, 32; Nasreen Sheikyousef, 25; Kennedy Bateaux, 38; Shadiyo Hussain-Ali, 23; Llewellyn Pinkerton, 21; Leah Kravett, 25; Barbara Van Derburgh, 22; and Jenessa Hayden, 23, all of Portland; Karen Lane, 50, of Auburn; and Lelia Saad, 24, of South Portland.
An unidentified 16-year-old was also arrested.
Ackerman said 16 of the 17 adults were at the church Feb. 1 for a 9 a.m. meeting.
Following the press conference, Gale said unity is critical to the protesters, who are ready to sit and talk as part of the restorative justice program used to resolve conflicts.
“The protesters were literally seated in a circle ready to go when we learned the state was not going to agree,” Gale said. “(Facilitator) Fred Van Liew agreed to meet with groups as a whole right off the bat.”
Sauschuck had a different perspective.
“What I saw was a group that wanted to continue to protest,” he said. “I didn’t see a group ready to move forward in good faith.”
The protesters agreed to the meeting Jan. 26 in the Cumberland County Unified Criminal Docket. In return, and along with each defendant paying $140 to the state Victim’s Compensation Fund, charges ranging from obstructing a public way to failure to disperse and disorderly conduct would be dropped in six months.
The protesters also pleaded guilty to civil charges.
Ackerman said her office is preparing to file motions to restore the cases to the criminal docket, but has not ruled out another effort at restorative justice meetings.
Sauschuck and Ackerman said the failure to meet was a disappointment, but it was necessary to have two meetings that were supposed to be from 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m. Ackerman said the protesters were divided alphabetically and the terms were agreed to “well in advance.”
The separate meetings with the protesters were needed for better face-to-face conversations, Sauschuck said.
Gale said he spent about two hours trying to keep the meeting going this morning, but said those charged want to be heard as a group.
“These people are passionate about racial justice and very much desire to communicate with the police,” he said.
All parties said there was also disagreement about who would be allowed to attend the meetings. State Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, who is also president of the city chapter of the NAACP, and a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union had also hoped to observe, but were turned away.
Gale said protesters did not agree to allow any visitors.