SFR Journalist’s Charges Dropped

Aaron Cantú and other inauguration day protesters no longer face criminal charges

For journalist Aaron Cantú, the inauguration is finally over.

This afternoon, US Prosecutor Jessie K Liu dismissed all the charges against the SFR staff writer, along with the rest of the defendants whose federal criminal cases stemming from the January 2017 event were pending before the court.

Cantú had been set to face a three-week jury trial beginning in late October for eight charges including conspiracy to riot and potential sentences reaching 60 years in prison.

Of more than 200 people rounded up by police on the day Donald Trump was inaugurated president, 36 cases remained pending until the three-sentence announcement from Liu, filed with Chief Judge Robert Morin:

The United States respectfully moves the court to dismiss the above-captioned cases without prejudice. After further review, the United States, in the exercise of its discretion, has determined that these matters should be dismissed without prejudice.
WHEREFORE, the United States respectfully requests that the above-captioned matters be dismissed without prejudice.

Defendants who had trials earlier were all either acquitted or had their charges dismissed.

Cantú was arrested while working as a freelance journalist. He joined the SFR staff a few months later, in April 2017. Though his lawyers had filed a motion to dismiss the charges in January, the judge had not acted on that request.

"I'm stunned," says Cantú, who was in the newsroom preparing for an interview with a source when he heard the news about his case. "It's still sinking in. The trauma has been really severe. It's taken a lot to be able to just hold it together and come to work and do the work. And now that that thing is not there, I need to figure out how to live my life."

Cantú's beat includes covering impacts of immigration policy in New Mexico, as well as education, the courts, police and prisons.

"From the beginning, my lawyers said I couldn't speak publicly. I couldn't say anything negative publicly about this administration. While I have not stuck to that entirely, it's been a sort of constraint on my freedom of speech that very few people can really understand, but that people in the criminal justice system will certainly relate to," he says.

Given that prosecutors didn't get a single case to stick, and even got sanctioned by a judge for their handling of evidence, he says it's fair to say the government went too far in mass arrests.

"I think it is a product of the over-zealousness of this law and order administration," he says. "The rot of the prosecutor's office is steeped in a very American vindictiveness."

The Washington DC firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher represented Cantú pro bono.

"We are very pleased with the court's dismissal of the charges against Mr. Cantú," says attorney Chantale Fiebig. "He is a very promising journalist with a bright future, and we are gratified that the baseless charges against him have been dismissed."

Mark Zusman, co-owner of SFR and editor and publisher of Willamette Week, also reacted with relief.

"I am delighted that the federal government came to its senses in realizing that prosecuting journalists for doing their jobs is completely at odds with what the First Amendment and Democracy is all about."

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