The district attorney’s pursuit of charges against protesters who shut down the city as the war in Iraq began is off again.
Prosecutors decided Friday to drop cases against 407 people charged with traffic violations for blocking city streets during the first days of fighting. Police in riot gear arrested 2,300 demonstrators.
Prosecutors still plan to pursue charges against 20 people allegedly involved in acts of misdemeanor violence or vandalism, Assistant Dist. Atty. Mike Menesini said.
Dist. Atty. Terence Hallinan has been under pressure from some residents, business owners and lawmakers to punish the protesters and try to recoup some of the cost of policing the demonstrations.
Earlier this month, prosecutors refiled charges against the protesters after San Francisco court commissioner Paul Slavit said he would dismiss the cases because of faulty paperwork. Prosecutors spent hours redoing the paperwork -- only to say they wouldn’t press charges after all.
On Friday, prosecutors said they had to abandon the cases because police couldn’t provide enough evidence to convict.
“Identifying individual acts of the protesters arrested was continuing to be very problematic,” 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.”
They have also cited the costs of the prosecutions during tough fiscal times.
San Francisco police officials, who have a combative relationship with Hallinan, weren’t ready to shoulder any blame.
“We believe the charges originally filed were appropriate,” acting Police Chief Alex Fagan said.
The 407 dismissals leave the other 1,900 cases in doubt. Bobbie Stein, an attorney for many protesters, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Hallinan had assured her those cases would also be dropped.
Much of downtown San Francisco was brought to a standstill, beginning March 20, when tens of thousands of protesters filled the streets to block sidewalks and businesses. Supervisor Tony Hall urged the city this spring to seek reimbursement from protest organizers to collect on costs estimated 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,” a Hall spokesman said Friday.