Judge dismisses 30 cases of criminal trespass against pro-Palestinian protesters arrested inside Columbia University building

A New York judge on Thursday dismissed trespassing cases against 30 individuals who were among the dozens arrested inside Columbia University’s Hamilton Hall during a pro-Palestinian protest in April, with prosecutors citing a lack of evidence.

Of the 46 initially arrested, 15 defendants still face charges, the Manhattan district attorney’s office said.

Dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters were accused of unlawfully entering the university’s Hamilton Hall on April 30 and barricading themselves inside before the university asked for assistance from the New York Police Department. After being removed from the building, many were charged with criminal trespass in the third degree, a class B misdemeanor.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said at the time he intended to look at each case and make decisions based on facts and the law. In the past, the Manhattan DA’s office has declined to prosecute or deferred prosecution cases where large numbers of people were arrested as part of civil disobedience.

During Thursday’s court hearing, Judge Kevin McGrath dismissed 30 cases of trespass against those who have no criminal history. One other defendant previously had their case dismissed, for a total of 31 individuals no longer facing charges.

“At the time of the charged conduct, the defendants were either staff employed by, or students enrolled in, Columbia University, and are now subject to student or staff disciplinary proceedings,” according to the Manhattan DA’s news release.

In calling for the dismissal of charges Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Stephen Millan cited what he called “extremely limited video,” adding that “the security cameras were immediately covered by certain defendants,” who prosecutors have been unable to identify.

The available video evidence “fails to establish or prove” the 31 people participated in damaging university property or causing harm to anyone, making it difficult for prosecutors to prove anything other than trespassing at trial, the DA’s office said.

Also complicating matters, students inside Hamilton Hall were wearing face masks, making it difficult to tie students to specific acts, according to a law enforcement official.

Columbia University on Thursday declined to comment on the court proceedings when contacted by CNN.

Protesters ‘unanimously’ reject deals

Fourteen of the defendants still facing charges – 12 of whom were neither staff nor students at Columbia – have been offered Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD), the Manhattan DA’s office said. An ACD allows a court to defer a defendant’s case – with the potential that the defendant’s charge will be dismissed – if the defendant does not engage in additional criminal conduct.

But those defendants have refused the offer, they said at a news conference held outside the courtroom after Thursday’s hearing, speaking to demonstrators wearing keffiyehs, a traditional Palestinian scarf.

“We stand here today united by our action and the Palestinian cause,” one of the protesters said. “The state has attempted, once again, to divide us – dismissing some of our cases and offering others deals in accordance with their outside agitator narrative,” adding they reject the division they say is intended to “preserve the sanctity of Columbia University, not an institution in the city of New York but always above and apart from it.”

“All of us who took part in the liberation of Hind’s Hall were driven by the same necessity to escalate, to escalate for Gaza, to resist the savage genocide of our siblings in Palestine,” the protester continued, referring to Hamilton Hall by another name bestowed on it by protesters.

“We exercised our shared right to oppose the US war machine by putting our bodies upon the years of Columbia, one of its most well-oiled domestic components.”

The protester said the defendants unanimously rejected deals to present a “united front against state repression.”

The 14 defendants are scheduled to appear back in court on July 25.

“The only allegation that’s different is they weren’t currently enrolled as a student or weren’t employed by the university,” said public defender Matthew Daloisio, who is representing 43 defendants.

Daloisio argued those defendants experienced the same police raid and got the same injuries as anyone else during the NYPD raid.

A 15th defendant, James Carlson, 40, was arrested on burglary charges at Columbia University, is facing a charge of criminal trespass in the third degree from the Manhattan DA, according to court records. He is also facing an arson charge from a separate incident. He’s pleaded not guilty in both cases, court records show.

On Thursday, Carlson went before the judge, where the prosecutor recounted how he is being accused of involvement in the Hamilton Hall protest. Carlson is accused of damaging a NYPD camera and being involved in burning an Israeli flag. When the prosecutor described the flag burning in court, some supporters in the courtroom snickered, prompting the court officer to reprimand them, telling them to be quiet.

The district attorney said there are ongoing school disciplinary proceedings for the students who had their case dismissed.

CNN’s Emma Tucker contributed to this report.

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