Aurora protest leaders charged with attempted kidnapping conduct the First Amendment defense
A showdown began Tuesday in Adams District Court on whether three members of the Socialism and Liberation Party had committed crimes or constitutionally protected freedom of speech during a protest last summer in Aurora against the death of Elijah McClain.
In a marathon preliminary hearing on Tuesday, District Attorney Timothy Twining and Aurora Police Officer Andrew Silberman argued the three leaders arranged hundreds of protesters to surround an Aurora police station and prevented officers from leaving the house – acts that which represented attempted kidnappings and other crimes.
Defense attorneys countered that protest leaders never called for these actions, did not control the crowd, and that the actions of their unarmed clients that night were clearly protected by the first change.
“Even if the court found that the conduct complied with elements of the attempted kidnapping act – and we insist that we do not – but even if the court found that the conduct, if it is nonetheless protected by the first amendment, it met cannot be criminalized, ”said attorney Adam Frank.
Lillian House, 26, Whitney Lucero, 23 and Joel Northam, 33, were charged with attempted kidnapping in September.
During this protest, up to 600 demonstrators surrounded the police station for several hours. Some used ropes to tie the station’s doors, barring those doors with furniture, and blocking the surrounding streets with makeshift barricades made of building materials, bike racks, stones, fences, and other flushed materials. At that time there were 18 police officers in the precinct.
House and other leaders said that evening protesters would not leave the area until Aurora police fired two officers implicated in the death of McClain, who died after being forcibly stopped by Aurora police in 2019 .
Silberman testified Tuesday that officials felt they could not safely exit the building and were prevented from doing so by the barricades. He said a confidential informant had told police that Northam and House knew the borough’s doors would be blocked and that they supported the effort.
“(She) even went to these events by finding a rope to give to other protesters to tie the gates shown in this picture,” Silberman testified of House.
House’s defense attorney Amelia Power challenged the credibility of this confidential informant, pointing out that there was no surveillance footage showing House holding a rope or barricading the gate and that no other witnesses verified the informant’s account.
Despite numerous videos of the event from attendees and bystanders, no videos show any of the three leaders blocking doors, erecting barricades or asking others to do so, defenders said. They characterized the event as largely peaceful, with only a small contingent of the crowd erecting barricades.
No police officers were physically prevented from leaving the building that night – no one ever tried to leave, lawyer Joshua Landy said, arguing that police could have used crowd-paying techniques or less-than-lethal weapons to escape, if they would have decided to do so.
“Part of the kidnapping is that people can’t go. If there were ways for these cops to leave, that would be important in this case, wouldn’t it? “He asked Silberman, who said he did not know what tools were available to officers that night.
Landy called the case against the protest leaders a “selective pursuit” and abuse of police violence to prevent the leaders from organizing additional demonstrations against police brutality.
The one-day preliminary hearing didn’t end on Tuesday and will continue on Monday.
Three other protesters were charged in connection with summer protests in Aurora, including Terrance Roberts, Trey Quinn and Russell Ruch. The lawsuits against Roberts and Quinn are pending. All charges against Ruch were dropped in January.