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Philly DA Larry Krasner declined to charge four UPenn protesters

The DA said evidence submitted by the university’s police force did not support the notion that those demonstrators had behaved criminally.

Pro-Palestinian protesters and Philadelphia police have a standoff along 34th Street at the University of Pennsylvania on Friday.
Pro-Palestinian protesters and Philadelphia police have a standoff along 34th Street at the University of Pennsylvania on Friday.Read moreCharles Fox / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said Monday that his office had declined to file charges against four pro-Palestinian protesters who were arrested Friday night by Penn police while allegedly attempting to occupy a campus building, saying the evidence submitted by the university’s police force did not support the notion that the demonstrators had behaved criminally.

Krasner said that although his office did approve misdemeanor charges against three people — for resisting arrest or defiant trespass — prosecutors had declined to approve some more serious charges recommended by police, also due to what the DA called a lack of evidence.

In one instance, Krasner said, a protester participating in the short-lived attempt to occupy Fisher-Bennett Hall, near 34th and Walnut Streets, was accused of assaulting a responding officer. But according to Krasner, Penn police “have not provided us with crucial video evidence and other forms of corroboration that we would normally expect,” and that “every indication is there was no injury [to the officer], there was no medical treatment.”

If police provide additional evidence supporting more serious charges, Krasner said his office would still consider filing them. Still, he said any charge requires probable cause, adding that law enforcement should “tread lightly and be careful before we act like every kind of protest is a crime. It is not.”

The DA’s remarks were a new development in what has become a series of campus demonstrations against the war in Gaza. Protest encampments have also been erected in recent weeks at schools including Drexel, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr colleges, and police at Penn arrested 33 people earlier this month while disbanding a 16-day-old encampment on the College Green.

A Penn spokesperson declined to comment Monday. Attempts to reach the three people who were charged for comment were unsuccessful, and the Defender Association of Philadelphia — which is listed as representing all three — declined to comment.

Despite the tumult on campus this spring, Penn celebrated commencement Monday afternoon with no disruptions or protests.

Krasner — who frequently represented protesters during his earlier career as a defense attorney — has kept a close eye on the demonstrations at the Ivy League school, visiting the encampment and speaking out about his hope that the demonstrations remain nonviolent.

He said Monday that he spent much of his weekend reviewing evidence connected to Friday’s incidents, which began around 8 p.m., when members of the Penn Gaza Solidarity Encampment announced their intention to occupy Fisher-Bennett Hall. Organizers said they had renamed it Refaat Alareer Hall in memory of the Palestinian poet and professor killed in an airstrike in Northern Gaza in December.

By 9:20 p.m., however, there were reports that people were in custody. Penn said later over the weekend that 19 people were arrested, 12 of whom were given citations for failing to disperse, then released. Six of the 19 people who were arrested were Penn students, the school said.

The other seven were detained and accused of more serious offenses by Penn police. Krasner’s office can choose which charges, if any, to prosecute after police submit their recommendations, and the DA said his office concluded there was not sufficient evidence of criminality in four of seven cases. Krasner also some of those seven people appeared to have been behaving in a manner that was no different from protesters who were allowed to simply leave.

“Elements of the offenses were not made out, there was not probable cause, and it would be inequitable and unjust to treat certain people completely differently than the way Penn police were treating other people doing the exact same thing,” Krasner said.

Two of the three people charged face counts of resisting arrest, while the third is accused of defiant trespass. All also face a summary count of disorderly conduct.

As for the alleged assault on the officer, Krasner said he expected to be granted access to the officer’s body worn camera video later this week.

“It will be important for us to see video that to date remains unavailable,” he said. “And once we see it we will consider the possibility” of filing charges connected to that altercation.