Rick Romley's Office Drops Disorderly Conduct Charges Against "Capitol 9" Protesters

Chained to the Capitol doors on April 20, two of the Capitol 9 await arrest
Chained to the Capitol doors on April 20, two of the Capitol 9 await arrest

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office has dropped charges of disorderly conduct against the nine protesters who chained themselves to the Arizona state Capitol on April 20, in an act of civil disobedience over SB 1070. 

(Note: Governor Jan Brewer signed the "papers, please" legislation just days later on April 23.)

Attorneys working pro bono on behalf of the student activists received notifications that all charges against the defendants had been dropped without prejudice at the request of the MCAO. "Without prejudice" is legal jargon meaning that the charges could be refiled at a later date.

MCAO spokesperson Jaime Brennan confirmed that all charges against the nine were dropped, and stated that, "No decision has been made yet on whether to refile."

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You can read the dismissal for yourself, here.

But lawyers for the Capitol 9 said they did not believe a refiling would occur.

"I would think the likelihood of reissuing charges is pretty low," said Joy Bertrand, attorney for activist Armando Rios.

"Frankly, it just lacked prosecutorial merit," she explained. "These kids really were brave during those protests and were ready to face the consequences. And I'm glad that the state can appreciate that these weren't criminals. These were people who were very frustrated with the current tenor of Arizona politics."

Antonio Bustamante, who represented Gregorio Montes de Oca, opined that the surprising development had something to do with the man who now occupies the MCAO's top spot.

"The difference is that Andrew Thomas is no longer County Attorney," said Bustamante. "And this county attorney doesn't want to waste resources keeping after university students who disagreed with this law just like he did."

Bustamante is referring to the fact that County Attorney Rick Romley spoke out against SB 1070 before it was signed, urging Governor Brewer to veto it.

Ironically, the dropping of the Capitol 9's charges deprives the activists of the possibility of using the court as a megaphone for the resistance to SB 1070, not unlike the way the Chicago Seven used their trial for conspiracy in 1969 and 1970 to promote the counterculture and an end to the Vietnam War.

Still, the Capitol 9 have earned a measure of acclaim. Protester Leilani Clark's image was used for a billboard-size digital mural hung in San Francisco's Mission District. The video done by Dennis Gilman of the arrest went viral, and has so far scored well over 53,000 views.

They have also inspired other young activists to put their bodies on the line. And hopefully there are more still to come.

As Clark, a student at Pima Community College, told me recently, "Civil disobedience is the next tactic in the escalation of the immigrant rights movement."

I hope we see more of it. The outcome may not be always as positive as with the Capitol 9. But the world needs to see how serious the situation is here in Arizona. And when people are willing to be arrested for nonviolent acts of protest, the world takes notice.

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