GLAA responds to Chief Newsham on DC Riot Statute

Police pepper spray protesters in D.C. on Jan. 20, 2017 (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

The following statement is by GLAA President Bobbi Strang:

The July 16, 2018 comments by Chief Newsham of the MPD regarding the DC Riot Statute and the failed felony prosecutions of protesters are of concern to GLAA. In his comments to WTOP, Chief Newsham expressed a desire to broaden the scope of the rioting statute so it would be easier to convict protesters of felony rioting. Not only do we believe that these statements express a presumption of guilt, we suggest that a better approach is for MPD to respond to the Office of Police Complaints report on Inauguration Day protests by taking steps to ensure that MPD policies and procedures are faithfully executed – including when officers are under duress.

​The reality is that the language of the DC Riot Statute, D.C. Code Section 22-1322 is overly broad, and indiscriminate arrests result. A felony arrest, even if later dismissed, can easily ruin a person’s livelihood, education, and life. The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals has interpreted the statute as currently written to say a broad array of individuals can be arrested and charged due to their proximity to criminal behavior rather than their own actions. See Carr v. District of Columbia, 599 F.3d 653 (D.C. Cir. 2010). The result can be, as it was on January 20, 2017, that bystanders, legal observers, and journalists get arrested and charged with felonies.

First Amendment rights are too important to trust to discretion, which is why we believe the language of the DC Riot Statute should be narrowed to ensure only individuals engaging in criminal behavior can be arrested and charged. (Our statement on the Riot Statute can be found here.)

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