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Charges against ‘straight pride’ protesters move ahead in Boston

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    Counterprotesters, including one wearing a horse mask, line the route of the Straight Pride Parade in Boston, on Aug. 31.

BOSTON >> A Massachusetts judge has decided to move forward with charges against several counterprotesters arrested during a “straight pride” parade in Boston this past weekend, despite requests from the district attorney to dismiss the cases.

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office sought the dismissal of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges against some defendants in exchange for community service on Tuesday, but Boston Municipal Judge Richard Sinnott denied the requests in seven instances.

District Attorney Rachael Rollins said Sinnott overstepped his role and promised she’ll take other steps to get the charges dropped.

“By compelling arraignment in every case, the judge punished the exercise of individuals’ First Amendment right to protest,” she said in a statement late Tuesday. “For those people now tangled in the criminal justice system for exercising their right to free speech — many of whom had no prior criminal record — I will use the legal process to remedy the judge’s overstepping of his role.”

Rollins didn’t elaborate, and a spokeswoman did not comment Wednesday.

Sinnott, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in 2017, declined to comment Wednesday as he continued hearing arraignments for the some 36 people arrested at the parade.

WGBH reports the judge agreed to dismiss the charges in many of the cases heard Wednesday. But at one point, Sinnott held a defense lawyer in contempt and had her handcuffed and detained for about two hours after she began reading from case law suggesting he had no authority to overrule Rollins’ decision not to prosecute certain defendants, the station reported.

A labor union representing Boston police officers, meanwhile, cheered Sinnott’s stance on the other defendants.

The Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association had called for the prosecutions of everyone arrested at the parade after, it says, officers were pelted with rocks, bottles of urine and other unidentified materials as the parade wound down, injuring at least four officers. It wasn’t clear how many parade participants versus counterprotesters were arrested, if any.

“We think that these offenders, most of them not residents of Boston, came here as agitators,” Lawrence Calderone, the union’s vice president told The Boston Globe. They came here to “create havoc,” he said.

Mayor Marty Walsh said the police department is also looking into complaints of police misconduct, including the use of pepper spray on counterprotesters.

The court spat is the latest tussle between Boston’s liberal prosecutor and the state’s judicial and law enforcement establishment.

Shortly after being elected in November, Rollins, a Democrat, listed 15 nonviolent offenses her office would no longer prosecute, including drug possession, shoplifting and trespassing.

The memo drew criticism from Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration, which said the approach could undermine efforts to address the national opioid epidemic and put some crime victims at risk.

Rollins also joined advocates for immigrants and another Massachusetts district attorney in successfully suing to prevent federal immigration agents from carrying out civil arrests in state courthouses.

Saturday’s parade was organized by a group calling itself “Super Happy Fun America” and drew a few hundred participants and hundreds more counterprotesters.

It featured floats supporting President Donald Trump and prominent gay conservative Milo Yiannopoulos served as its grand marshal.

While her office has moved to drop charges against some of the protesters, Rollins stressed she’s still pursuing charges against others facing more serious offenses.

Among them were three men arraigned Tuesday on charges of assault and battery on a police officer. The men were ordered by a judge not to set foot again in Boston except for required court appearances, or else face jail time.

“Make no mistake: some people were appropriately arraigned and will be held accountable for actions that put the safety of the public and law enforcement at risk,” Rollins said in her statement.

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