ST. LOUIS -- Charges against six people arrested at a vigil remembering the 2014 police killing of teenager Michael Brown were dropped Thursday by a prosecutor without explanation.
Ferguson prosecutor Stephanie Karr, who isn’t known for leniency in dealing with Ferguson demonstrators and is facing at least one ethics complaint, withdrew the charges in a handwritten letter as trial was about to begin. The six defendants, who had been held for trial in earlier preliminary hearings, exchanged hugs and smiles.
“It’s handwritten and clear that they had done this minutes ahead of time,” said defense lawyer Javad Khazaeli, who represented all six defendants. “As of yesterday, they were still going forward with the charges. And today, we were surprised when they came in" and dropped the charges.
The demonstrators were arrested Feb. 9, 2015, after a candlelight vigil remembering Brown, the black teenager fatally shot by a white police officer in 2014 in what helped spark a nationwide movement against police brutality. Following the vigil, protesters marched to the Ferguson Police Department, where some wrote on police property with sidewalk chalk.
“It was kind of an anomaly that night because they’ve done chalking there before without arrest," said Heather De Mian, 45, who was among those arrested. "But not completely an anomaly, because they’ve arrested people here for nothing plenty of times,” added De Mian, who was live-streaming video of the protest that night.
De Mian was charged with failure to obey and third-degree assault, the most severe of the charges. The others faced an array of charges, including property damage and resisting arrest.
“We had 11 videos that showed that none of the defendants were acting in a criminal manner and they’ve had that for months," Khazaeli said of the prosecution. "We even had one of the prosecutors come to our office and review them.”
Christopher Phillips, who said he was arrested filming the other arrests, said police damaged his $20,000 camera.
“That’s a whole other story,” said Phillips.
The letter from the prosecutor said the defendants are subject to the city refiling charges. Khazaeli said he didn't know what that means.
All six defendants filed a federal lawsuit last week.
Correction: This article previously misstated the charges that De Mian was facing, and stated incorrectly that the charges were changed.
This story has also been updated to include information about a complaint against Karr and a federal lawsuit that the defendants filed last week.
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