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Arrest records of protesters who weren’t charged should be destroyed, lawyers say

A protester is arrested by Los Angeles police after curfew on June 2.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Protesters arrested for curfew violations or failure to disperse during peaceful demonstrations over the death of George Floyd in police custody aren’t facing criminal charges in Los Angeles, and now their lawyers want prosecutors and the LAPD to seal and destroy the related records.

Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey and prosecutors in a number of other local jurisdictions have already declared they won’t seek criminal charges against about 3,000 people arrested during recent marches for misdemeanor curfew violations, unlawful assembly, failure to disperse, failure to follow a police order and similar low-level offenses, saying they support the exercise of 1st Amendment rights.

But attorneys with the National Lawyers Guild and Los Angeles County Public Defenders Union want prosecutors and the Los Angeles Police Department and other law enforcement agencies to take it a step further.

“We now ask the city attorney and LAPD Chief Michel Moore to close this episode by sealing and destroying these protesters’ arrest records. Not just because arrestees are entitled to this relief by law, but because it would serve the interest of justice — for as we all know, arrest records can cause significant collateral consequences in the areas of housing, employment and immigration,” the lawyers said Thursday in announcing the request.

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While each person arrested could file a petition to have their record sealed, the lawyers said it would “heavily burden our overwhelmed courts and will needlessly drain resources from the Law Offices of the Los Angeles County Public Defender and the broader indigent defense community.” Instead, prosecutors and the LAPD could do so with a simple directive, they said.

Feuer’s office told The Times on Thursday that it was working on a response.

Similar requests are being made in communities with their local prosecutors.

Since Lacey confirmed Sunday that her office would not prosecute protesters arrested for breaking curfew or failing to disperse, other local prosecutors have followed.

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Feuer announced Monday that instead of seeking penalties, he would divert arrestees into a program of dialog discussion. But after receiving pushback from activists and local Black Lives Matter leaders, Feuer dropped the strings attached to dismissing the cases.

The decision by city law enforcement officials to not pursue punishment for protesters follows complaints by many of those arrested that they spent hours in plastic handcuffs crammed in buses without justification, leaving them with injuries and potentially exposing them to the coronavirus.

A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Black Lives Matter L.A. claims the curfews used to justify many of the arrests illegally suppressed constitutionally protected protests and violated people’s right of freedom of movement. The organizations have also decried videos that show police officers responding with violence against protesters, including swinging batons and firing foam and sponge projectiles.


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