Leaders of protests against Elijah McClain’s death are in jail years ago after two prosecutors on Thursday brought a range of charges against them on a wide range of suspected crimes – from stealing signs from counter-protesters to inciting riot and kidnapping.
All protesters – Lillian House, Joel Northam, Terrance Roberts, Whitney Lucero, Trey Quinn and John Ruch – face crime. The charges are related to demonstrations in Aurora on June 27th, July 3rd, July 12th and July 25th.
More than 30 pages of affidavits for those arrested explain how Aurora police used live stream recordings, a transcript of a call between House and Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, and social media posts from protesters to initiate proceedings against those arrested.
House, Northam and Roberts were the faces of protests in Denver and Aurora that summer. House and Northam were organizers of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which has led massive demonstrations in Aurora and Denver in recent months. Roberts is a noted activist in Denver and Aurora and a co-founder of the Front Line Party for Revolutionary Action.
The Party for Socialism and Liberation called for the prosecution to be discontinued in a Facebook post on Thursday afternoon and said those arrested were the main organizers. In a livestream statement later that evening, the organization said the prosecution had criminalized the act of protest.
“Those arrested were the leaders demanding justice for Elijah McClain, who was brutally murdered by the Aurora Police Department,” the group said in the Post. “You are still in jail with the exception of one person. You have faced multiple crimes and years in prison trying to stop the movement for justice for Elijah McClain. “
Jurisdiction for Aurora is divided between the 17th and 18th judicial districts, which cover the Adams and Arapahoe districts. Prosecutors Dave Young and George Brauchler declined requests from the Denver Post for interviews.
The 17th District protesters were charged with a July 3 protest in which protesters surrounded an Aurora police station for about seven hours. Prosecutors claim the protesters blocked the streets around the train station and blocked the doors.
Three of the protesters – House, Northam and Lucero – are charged with first degree kidnapping in connection with the protest for “illegally and criminally attempting to detain or forcibly detain 18 officers in order to obtain a concession for them or someone else force to secure their release, ”reads the press release.
At the time the approximately 600 demonstrators were demanding that the three officers involved in Elijah McClain’s death be dismissed and charged with criminal charges, 18 officers were in the police station.
Police also claim that when protesters blocked the streets around the precinct and blocked the station’s doors, the occupation caused a riot because it “created a risk of violence and property damage”. Aurora police leaders considered sending in a helicopter to get the officers out of the building, but found this plan to be impractical.
Colorado law defines a riot as “a public disturbance involving three or more people which, through turbulent and violent behavior, presents a serious risk of damage to or injury to property or people, or which seriously interferes with any government function”.
“We support the First Amendment right of people to protest peacefully in our community, but there is a difference between peaceful protests and riots,” 17th District Attorney Dave Young said in a press release. “If people cross the border and break the law, they will be prosecuted.”
Charges filed by the 18th District include criminal theft charges against House and Northam for allegedly receiving signs from two counter-protesters during a June 27 demonstration – one of the first major protests against the murder of Elijah McClain the police had forcibly cleared the lawn in front of them of the Aurora Municipal Center. House and Northam then led the protesters to block the lanes of Insterstate 225, East 6th Avenue and Sable Boulevard.
Other charges include a July 12 auto protest house led by Northam that blocked traffic and a July 25 protest where a driver drove his jeep through a crowd blocking a freeway and one member of the crowd fired a gun at the jeep and hit two others. Investigators accused House, Northam and Roberts of the violence of creating “turbulent and dangerous situations”. The jeep driver has not been prosecuted, despite the alleged gunman facing multiple charges of attempted murder and assault.
The protesters are charged with the following:
- House: inciting a riot, conspiracy to cause a riot, theft of a sign, conspiracy to commit a theft, riot, conspiracy to commit a riot, obstruction of a freeway or passage, conspiracy to commit a freeway or a Blocking passage, tried first – kidnapping, attempting to influence an official and interfering with government operations
- Northam: riot, conspiracy, riot, theft, conspiracy, theft, riot, conspiracy, riot, obstruction of a freeway or passage, conspiracy to obstruct a freeway or passage, attempted first degree kidnapping, obstruction of government operations
- Ruch: theft, conspiracy to commit theft
- Roberts: riot, conspiracy, riot, obstruction of a freeway or passage, conspiracy to block a freeway or passage, cause riot, impede government operations
- Lucero: attempt at first degree kidnapping, riot, riot, obstruction of government operations
- Quinn: incitement to riot, riot, false imprisonment, obstruction of government operations
Together, the six protesters face 33 criminal offenses and 34 misdemeanor charges. Anyone convicted faces years of imprisonment.
The Party for Socialism and Liberation was planning a march at the Colorado State Capitol on Saturday lunchtime to protest the arrests.