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Colorado protest leader pleads not guilty in alleged riot

October 6, 2020 GMT

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — One of three people arrested after protesting in August outside the home of a Colorado Springs police officer pleaded not guilty Tuesday in court.

The 20-year-old has been charged with felonies including menacing, attempted robbery, attempted theft, engaging in a riot without a weapon and misdemeanor counts of obstructing traffic and disobeying a public safety order, The Gazette reported.

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Johnson was one of the leaders of mostly peaceful protests that began in the city after the May police killing of Black man George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Alison Blackwell, Charles Johnson’s attorney, said her client is a victim of “political prosecution.”

The 20-year-old and two other protesters were arrested more than a month after marching on Aug. 3 near the home of Alan Van’t Land, one of the officers who shot and killed De’Von Bailey, a 19-year-old Black man exactly one year prior.

Van’t Land, as well as Officer Blake Evenson, were both cleared of any wrongdoing by a grand jury in the 2019 shooting. The officers told the jury that while they hadn’t seen a gun, they believed Bailey was armed when he fled from their questioning.

The FBI and the U.S. Attorney for Colorado also declined to bring charges against the officers. Bailey’s family has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the officers and the city.

The Colorado Springs Police Department said in a statement that Johnson and the two others had taken part in “riotous and illegal behavior” in which guns were involved.

Johnson’s attorney asserted that her client did not participate in a riot. “It was a protest, at least for Charles,” Blackwell said Tuesday.

Demonstrators gathered outside the El Paso County courthouse in support of Johnson on Tuesday, holding up signs that included “Drop the Bogus Charges,” “This isn’t a riot” and “The system is guilty.”

A jury trial is scheduled for Jan. 11.