AURORA | The district attorney for north Aurora has dismissed a litany of criminal charges filed against a quintet of people who organized and participated in a demonstration protesting the death of Elijah McClain outside of an Aurora police substation last summer.
Democratic District Attorney Brian Mason on Thursday dismissed the nearly two dozen charges, including multiple felonies, originally filed last September by his former boss, Dave Young.
The demonstrators, Lillian House, Joel Northam, Whitney Lucero, Terrance Roberts and Trey Quinn, were accused of engaging in and inciting a riot outside of an Aurora police station on the University of Colorado Anschutz medical campus the evening of July 3, 2020 and into the early morning hours of Independence Day.
Authorities said the group and others barricaded police inside the building for hours, preventing officers from responding to calls throughout the northern portion of the city. House, Northam and Lucero, all of who are leaders with the local Party for Socialism and Liberation, were originally slapped with felony attempted kidnapping charges, though a judge dismissed those counts in March.
In a statement, Mason, who has worked in the Adams County judicial district for years but was only sworn into the top post in January, said he is obligated to drop charges for which his prosecutors cannot win convictions.
“I have an ethical obligation to only proceed on charges my office can prove and to dismiss charges that we cannot prove,” he said. “My job is to do the right thing. After considerable thought and reflection, I believe dismissing these charges is the right thing to do.”
Young and Aurora police officials originally said the events in front of the police station morphed from a protest into riot when attendees blocked the building’s entrances and exits with various objects, tied doors shut and obtained cans of gasoline, according to court documents.
“There is a difference between a peaceful protests and a riot,” Young said in a statement when he announced his charges Sept. 17. “When individuals cross the line and break the law, they will be prosecuted.”
Young left his elected post due to term limits and has since taken a role in the district attorney’s office serving El Paso County.
Mason agreed that “significant lines were crossed during the protest,” but said his decision to drop the criminal cases was made in an effort to mend a convulsed community.
“I grew up in Aurora and care deeply about this city,” Mason said. “The Aurora community has gone through a lot and is deeply in need of healing. I hope that today’s decision will promote this; and that, together, we can seek peaceful and effective ways to address the significant issues of our day.”
In a series of statements, the former defendants said they never bound doorhandles together and admonished those who did.
“All parties agree that lines were crossed on July 3 and 4,” House, Northam and Lucero said in a joint statement through their attorneys. “The law is clear that tying doors to a police station is not legal and there has never been an allegation that our clients did so. The goals of peaceful protest are not to prevent police from responding to calls for service, but to affect change that addresses the needs of the community. We believe in the First Amendment and its guarantee of the rights to free speech and to petition the government for redress of grievances. We are glad to move forward.”
Quinn further lamented the nature of the July protest and others that took place last summer in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“I had come out to pressure the state into a conversation with myself and the community,” he said in a statement. “I did not come out to dissolve any opportunity for legitimate dialogue between the state, police, and ourselves. I seek real solutions. I do not seek a drawn out standoff as the entry to a beneficial understanding. What concerned me that night was the idea that in this continued manner of protesting, very few solutions will come. The state will pour dollar after dollar into the police department to stand off with protesters, just as protesters will pour their sweat into standing off with police. This will not create an actual safer society.”
House, Northam and Roberts still face criminal charges in the judicial district that covers the southern portion of Aurora in connection with other demonstrations that took place last year. House faces four misdemeanor and petty counts of tampering, theft and obstructing a highway; Northam is accused of seven similar counts; and Roberts is suspected of a lone count of obstructing a highway, a misdemeanor.
House is slated to be arraigned in her case on June 21, court records show. Northam and Roberts both have court appearances scheduled for May 17.
Prosecutors recently revoked multiple originally filed felony charges against House and Northam.
Earlier this year, an Arapahoe County judge dropped four felony theft charges originally levied against another man in connection with a demonstration in Aurora. Like Young, the district attorney who originally filed the charges in the 18th Judicial District, Republican George Brauchler, was also term-limited and left his post in early 2021.
A pair of people maintain open cases related to the July 3 event in Adams County, a spokesperson for Mason’s office confirmed. Daxx Dalton faces counts of false imprisonment, engaging in a riot and obstructing government operations. Cameron Frazier faces a pair of felony weapons charges. Both have court appearances on the docket in the coming weeks.
A Denver man also remains accused of felony arson in Arapahoe County in connection with a protest that resulted in significant damage to the Aurora Municipal Courthouse on July 25, 2020. He’s scheduled to stand for a preliminary hearing later this month.