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San Francisco Drops Charges Against Most War Protesters
Published on Saturday, June 28, 2003 by the New York Times
San Francisco Drops Charges Against Most War Protesters
by Dean E. Murphy
 

SAN FRANCISCO, June 27 The district attorney's office today dismissed infractions against 407 people arrested in March in antiwar protests here and also indicated that it would not pursue charges against all but about 20 of the others who were arrested.

Mike Menesini, an assistant district attorney, said the decision, which lawyers for the protesters estimated would affect about 2,300 people, was made "in the interest of justice."

Mr. Menesini said the 20 cases not dropped involved acts of violence or vandalism, which are misdemeanors, rather than infractions.

"We have made the decision to dismiss, keeping in mind that these cases basically involved nonviolent offenders, people that when ordered to step out of the street refused to, or when told to go left went right," he said.

Mr. Menesini said the decision was based largely on the difficulty in prosecuting individuals in what were essentially mass arrests. He said the Police Department had indicated that it could not "establish the facts necessary to convict any of these individuals" because the arrest reports were too general.

"Identifying individual acts of the protesters arrested was continuing to be very problematic," Mr. Menesini said. "As a consequence, the district attorney felt it was in the interest of justice to just bite the bullet and stand up and do what was right. That is always difficult."

The district attorney, Terence Hallinan, had been under pressure from some residents, business owners and elected officials to pursue the cases against the protesters because of the disruption they had caused.

On March 20, the day after the bombing of Iraq began, much of downtown San Francisco was brought to a standstill by protesters filling the streets and blocking sidewalks.

One of the biggest critics of the protests, Supervisor Tony Hall, had urged Mr. Hallinan to pursue the prosecutions so that the arrested people would be required to pay fines to the city. In March, Mr. Hall had introduced a resolution urging the city to seek reimbursement from the organizers of the protests for expenses incurred by the city. One calculation for March alone put the cost at $3.5 million.

"It is unfortunate that neither the district attorney nor the Superior Court has done anything to help San Francisco make itself financially whole as a result of the war protests," Mr. Hall said through a spokesman.

Bobbie Stein, a lawyer with the National Lawyers Guild, which has represented most of the arrested protesters, said she met today with Mr. Hallinan and was assured that the remaining cases would not be pursued. She said Mr. Hallinan had come to realize that the arrested protesters were prepared to fight every effort to prosecute them, even relatively minor infractions, such as jaywalking.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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