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Charges dismissed against Black Lives Matter protesters who blocked L.A. freeway

Charges dismissed against Black Lives Matter protesters who blocked L.A. freeway
Police arrested more than 300 people in November 2014, when demonstrators marched through city streets and blocked freeways to protest the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Charges were dismissed Thursday against a group of demonstrators accused of blocking the 101 Freeway during a 2014 protest against the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., part of a series of Los Angeles demonstrations that drew national attention because of the high number of arrests police made.

Attorneys representing the seven Black Lives Matter protesters have long called for the misdemeanor charges filed against their clients to be thrown out, saying the demonstrators were peacefully exercising their free speech rights. In March, jurors rejected some of the charges against some of protesters but could not agree on a verdict on all of the counts.

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On Thursday, prosecutors said they would not seek another trial.

"We analyzed the results of the first trial and decided not to retry the cases," said Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the city attorney's office.

The lawyers representing the protesters welcomed the decision but said it was long overdue.

"It was the right thing to do," attorney Caree Harper said. "They had a total change of heart this morning, which was a wise way to go."

Nana Gyamfi, a lawyer who represented six of the seven protesters in the case, said the decision should signal to city prosecutors that they should stop filing charges against protesters and instead use their resources to address the complaints about excessive police force that prompted the demonstrations.

"Clearly, we feel like the cases should not have been brought in the first place," Gyamfi said. "There was no need to have gone through this process."

The defendants -- Rosa Clemente, Haewon Asfaw, Povi-Tamu Bryant, Sha Dixon, Todd Harris, Damon Turner and Jas Wade -- were among 323 demonstrators arrested during protests over several days.

The group was accused of blocking the freeway near Alvarado Street on the morning of Nov. 26, 2014. They were ultimately charged with obstructing a thoroughfare and refusing to comply with lawful police orders, both misdemeanors.

The protests in Los Angeles came after a grand jury decided not to indict the white police officer who fatally shot Brown. The death of Brown, a black 18-year-old, inspired greater scrutiny of how police officers use force, particularly against African Americans.

The grand jury's decision ignited demonstrations in cities across the country, some marked by violence, looting and burning buildings. L.A.'s protests were calmer, but the 300-plus arrests surpassed the arrest figures from other cities with more violent demonstrations, such as Oakland, St. Louis and Ferguson.

L.A. city prosecutors filed charges against 27 of those protesters -- fewer than 9% of those arrested.

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Times staff writer Stephen Ceasar contributed to this report.

Follow me on Twitter: @katemather

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