Prosecutors file dozens of charges against demonstrators who organized Aurora protests this summer

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AURORA | Prosecutors across Aurora on Thursday levied dozens of criminal charges, including a smattering of felonies, against six people who organized or participated in several demonstrations against police violence held across the city earlier this summer. 

District Attorneys in Arapahoe County’s 18th Judicial District and Adams County’s 17th Judicial District simultaneously announced the bevy of accusations, which include inciting a riot, theft, attempt to commit first-degree kidnapping and several others. 

The defendants currently named in the two jurisdictions are: 25-year-old Lillian House, 32-year-old Joel Northam, 33-year-old John Ruch, 44-year-old Terrance Roberts, 23-year-old Whitney Lucero and 33-year-old Trey Quinn. 

House and Northam, both of whom are organizers for the local chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, each face 24 counts spread across Aurora’s two primary counties. Roberts also faces charges in both counties, with four counts in Arapahoe and three in Adams. 

On multiple occasions, House, Northam and Roberts have led marches and protests or given speeches which obstructed public thoroughfares, orally advocated for the ‘burning down’ of government buildings, surrounded police stations and held officers inside, attempted to influence the action of a police chief through coercion and threats of violence, the damage of property, the intimidation and assault of protesters expressing a different opinion, the firing of large mortar-style fireworks at police officers, individuals being injured by gunshot wounds, and the setting of a fire in the Aurora Municipal Courthouse,” Aurora Detective Andrew Silberman wrote in court documents filed Sept. 14. 

Quinn and Lucero each face five counts in Adams County, while Ruch has been accused of two counts of theft and two counts of conspiracy to commit theft in Arapahoe County. 

The Arapahoe County cases stem from protests held at the Aurora Municipal Center June 27 and July 25 and another car rally that wove through the city July 12.

House and Northam are both named in an incident that unfolded shortly after 1 p.m. June 27 during which a gaggle of demonstrators with the local Socialism and Liberation chapter confronted a pair of counter protesters, according to court documents. House is accused of ripping a handmade sign from a man who later told investigators that he attended the event “to share his point of view that the police did not kill Elijah McClain,” according to a collective arrest affidavit filed individually against the four people named in Arapahoe County. Northam is accused of later shoving that same protester backward, and Ruch is accused of grabbing the man’s hand as House tore the sign out of his grip. 

At nearly all of the recent demonstrations, gatherers have demanded that 17th Judicial District Attorney Dave Young criminally charge the three Aurora police officers who detained 23-year-old Elijah McClain days before he died in August 2019.  Young has repeatedly said he does not have enough evidence to win a conviction against the officers at trial. 

The Adams County charges filed Thursday stem from another event held outside of a north Aurora police station July 3, during which hundreds of demonstrators encircled the building for some 10 hours, preventing officers from leaving the building. The group effectively held 18 officers captive by barricading exits with ropes, boards and sandbags, prosecutors have alleged. 

“(Investigators) learned from reports completed by the 18 officers who were imprisoned inside District One that the environment inside was tense and concerning,” according court documents. “The anxiety and stress of the officers inside were extremely high. These officers were caught completely off guard when the protesters surrounded the station and did not have time to escape.”

Quinn and Roberts are both accused of encouraging people to seal exits from the building by linking arms and telling people to “occupy” the area, police wrote in affidavits.

“They got ’em in there, they ain’t letting ’em out,” Roberts was heard saying on a Facebook Live stream during the event.

Police combed dozens of social media accounts and videos after the recent events to levy their accusations, documents show.

The July 3 event was billed as a march from the area where McClain was detained on Billings Street to the Aurora Municipal Center several miles away. However, Northam later told reporters that the group intentionally misled their Facebook followers to keep law enforcement observers in the dark.

Police commanders admitted to being surprised by the maneuver and at one point asked the National Guard to evacuate the officers in the building via helicopter, according to the affidavit.

“Division Chief Terry Brown … noted that police personnel were caught off guard on July 3, 2020 when the protest leaders decided to go to District One instead of (the Aurora Municipal Center),” according to the arrest record. 

The event officially devolved after attendees began barricading doors with various refuse and obtained canisters of gasoline, according to investigators.

“This protest turned into a riot when members of the crowd knowingly surrounded a police station and prevented the station from fulfilling its duty to provide services to the community,” Silberman wrote.

Young did not characterize the event, which featured ample music, dancing and pizza, as a peaceful protest.

“We support the First Amendment right of people to protest peacefully in our community but there is a difference between a peaceful protests and a riot,” Young said in a statement. “When individuals cross the line and break the law, they will be prosecuted.”

Less than two weeks after the so-called occupation, police accused the trio of House, Northam and Roberts of snaring traffic and raising tensions for another event on July 25, documents show.

At the latter gathering, which again shut down I-225, demonstrators who arrived after at least House and Northam had left, wreaked havoc on the facade of the local courthouse. The group caused more than $300,000 in damage and at one point started a small fire in a courthouse office, city officials have said.

Attendees of the July 25 event are still calling for criminal charges to be filed against the driver of a Jeep Rubicon who earlier in the afternoon drove into a throng of demonstrators on Interstate 225. A Wheat Ridge man was later arrested on suspicion of firing toward the Jeep and striking two protesters in the process. Both people who were shot survived their injuries. 

It’s unclear exactly where each of the six people named by prosecutors Thursday was arrested. A spokesperson for Aurora Police confirmed the local agency has not yet processed any of the defendants.

However, in a statement issued via Facebook late Thursday, the local Party for Socialism and Liberation chapter said some were arrested in their homes, while others were arrested in commercial parking lots and during traffic stops. All but one of the people charged Thursday is currently in custody, according to the group.

House, Northam, Roberts and Lucero are all currently incarcerated in Denver, county records show.

The group has organized a petition calling for their release.

“On Sept. 17, police agencies in the Denver area arrested anti-racist organizers in a coordinated assault,” the group wrote on its Facebook page. ” … They are facing multiple felony charges and years in prison in an obvious frame-up aimed at stopping the movement for justice for Elijah McClain.”

Each class five felony filed Thursday carries a possible sentencing range of between one and three years in state prison, though probation is an option, according to a spokesperson for the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. All of the defendants except Ruch face at least one of those counts.