Protesters in court for barricading Aurora police precinct in July

AURORA | Protesters used rope and tables to barricade doors shut at an Aurora police station and trap officers inside for several hours last summer during racial injustice demonstrations, a detective testified Tuesday during an evidentiary hearing in Colorado where a judge will decide if there’s sufficient proof to move the cases to trial.

The protest that was organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation began in the evening of July 3 and continued into the early morning of July 4 to bring attention to the 2019 killing of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died after being arrested by Aurora police.

Three protesters in court Tuesday — Lillian House, Joel Northam and Whitney Lucero — face decades of prison time for what critics say are trumped-up charges as part of an attack on the Black Lives Matter movement and national protests from last summer.

The charges include engaging in a riot, inciting a riot while giving commands, obstructing government operations and the attempted kidnapping of police officers. Prosecutors say about 600 people surrounded an Aurora police precinct with 18 officers inside, blocking doors with ropes, boards, picnic tables and sandbags for seven hours. They haven’t entered a plea yet in the case.

The defense argued that Aurora police Detective Andrew Silberman’s investigation and the subsequent charges were biased against the three political activists who led demonstrations opposed to Aurora police. Joshua Landy, Northam’s defense attorney, called it “selective prosecution.”

“This is a complete violation of free speech, an overstep of government power and of the use of police authority to shut down legitimate speech designed to bring attention to a topic that deserves it,” Landy said.

When the defense asked about the less lethal munitions inside of the precinct for police to use as a defense against the crowd, Silberman said he didn’t know about the munitions.

“That’s an important thing to figure out in a kidnapping case, don’t you agree?” Landy asked Silberman.

Silberman said that Aurora police were directed not to engage with protesters or leave the building. He added that the officers inside did not attempt to leave the building and were not physically prevented from doing so — which the defense argued is essential to the definition of kidnapping.

“The officers felt like there wasn’t a way for them to leave if they chose to leave,” Silberman said.

During Silberman’s testimony, he said probable cause to charge the three defendants was determined by reviewing surveillance footage, videos and photos of the events. He interviewed only one police officer during his investigation, which the defense said showed Silberman’s bias in the case and lack of credibility as a witness.

The judge disagreed and said it wasn’t relevant for the hearing but could be if the cases went to trial.

The prosecution showed photos and videos taken by Aurora police officers outside of the precinct that showed makeshift barricades blocking off several streets around the Aurora precinct.

During the defense’s cross-examination, Silberman testified that the people identified as committing crimes were not wearing Party for Socialism and Liberation shirts or were known to be directly associated with the group.

The defense questioned Silberman on the timeline for speeches given by House and Northam to the crowd and when the precinct door’s were tied shut or roads were barricaded. Silberman said he didn’t know most of the exact times that certain events occurred, making it unclear whether House or Northam instigated these actions.

Testifying virtually, Silberman said social media posts referred to the event as an “occupation,” including a Party for Socialism and Liberation video on Facebook of Northam addressing the crowd.

“He was telling them that it was going to be an occupation. He went over the demands of — the reason we’re here is to have these officers fired and we’re going to stay around the station until that happens,” Silberman said.

The prosecution also showed a video from the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s Facebook page of a phone call between House, one of the protest’s organizers, and Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson. In the video, House tells Wilson that the crowd will disperse if she fires the “killer cops” who were involved in McClain’s arrest and received photos of their colleagues imitating a chokehold used on McClain.

The officers in the photos were fired, and their appeals to be reinstated were denied. The officers who received the photos by text remain on the force.

The chief explains that she can’t fire the officers because of the several ongoing investigations.

“It seems like the rules only apply when it’s convenient,” House tells Wilson shortly before hanging up.

The defense revealed text messages between Juan Marcano, an Aurora city council member, with Chief Wilson before the dispersal order was given by police around 2:42 a.m. to show that the three defendants who were charged as leaders of the protests were proactive in getting the crowd to leave.

“I’m being told PSL is trying to march folks out. Some random idiots put up the barricades and destroyed the squad car,” Marcano texted Wilson at 12:51 a.m.

McClain died in 2019 after police used a chokehold to arrest him and paramedics injected him with an excessive dose of ketamine. Prosecutors declined to file charges, saying the coroner could not determine exactly what caused the death and that they could not prove the level of force used was unjustified. His case received renewed attention following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May 2020.

The court went into a recess Tuesday evening. The hearing will continue next Monday.



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10 months ago

City Council and their support of criminals has made the City a terrible place to live

Dennis Duffy
Dennis Duffy
10 months ago

I was conflicted on what would be correct response until I read the article about the us capitol attack and realized how similar they were.
Seems that they both should be treated as attacks on society but society is pretty messed up these days so I would rather see all of them go free both here in Colorado and in D C. ..

10 months ago

“This is a complete violation of free speech, an overstep of government power and of the use of police authority to shut down legitimate speech designed to bring attention to a topic that deserves it.”

And socialist hypocrisy once again rears its head. Accusations of government overreach from the side of the aisle that keeps putting more government in power.