FOR THE SECOND time this year, a group of accused Occupy Philly protesters walked out of court free and clear after a Philadelphia judge on Thursday dismissed all charges against them.
"I feel like this is a good day for the First Amendment and for the right of people to speak out against economic injustice," Dustin Slaughter, 32, said after leaving the courtroom the Criminal Justice Center.
The freelance journalist and photographer was one of 30 defendants on trial on charges of obstruction of a highway, failure to disperse and conspiracy stemming from a Nov. 30 protest sparked when police forced the Occupiers from their 56-day encampment outside City Hall on Dilworth Plaza.
The lone prosecution witness, police Capt. William Fisher, who was head of the Civil Affairs Unit at the time, described the ensuing 3 1/2-hour protest as "a mob scene" of 300 to 400 people exhibiting an "air of animosity."
But Municipal Judge Karen Y. Simmons concluded that prosecutors lacked the evidence to prove their case and declared a judgment of acquittal, as the 14 defense attorneys had requested.
Simmons said video of the protest and arrests convinced her that the protesters had not acted disorderly and were arrested even after they had moved from the middle of 15th Street to the sidewalk as the police ordered them to do.
She said that when weighing the defendants' constitutional rights to protest versus the public's being inconvenienced, the right to protest must be upheld.
Ten other Occupy protesters were cleared by a judge Feb. 23. They had been tried for blocking traffic outside the police administration building Oct. 23.
Two more groups of Occupy protesters will be tried in June on similar charges for protests at a Center City Wells Fargo Bank branch and at the Comcast Center.