Update | March 26, 2021
Major court victory in Denver: Judge dismisses kidnapping charge against leaders of peaceful protests for Justice for Elijah McClain at preliminary hearing
With heaviest charge thrown out, the fight continues for the activists to defeat remaining charges
Denver, Colorado. On March 25, 2021, after over nine hours of testimony at a preliminary hearing, Adams County Court Judge Leroy Kirby dismissed the First Degree Attempted Kidnapping charge against Lillian House, Joel Northam, and Eliza Lucero of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (“PSL”). This represents a major step forward in the defense against the political prosecution levied by Aurora police and prosecutors against the leaders of peaceful demonstrations in Aurora this past summer demanding justice for Elijah McClain. The defendants could have faced 12-24 years in prison for this single charge if convicted.
At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution provided no evidence that any of these protestors committed any act of violence, or barricaded any entrance, to the police station on July 3 and 4, 2020, during a protest at the APD District 1 substation. Judge Kirby was clear in his ruling that PSL actively discouraged any unlawful action. Further, officers had freedom of movement during the entirety of the protest and in fact sequestered themselves inside the police station by order of their commanding officers.
It is very rare for charges to be dismissed at a preliminary hearing. Unlike a trial, the prosecution's burden of proof is much lower and the judge can consider evidence that would not be allowed at a trial, such as hearsay. Even given this extraordinarily low burden, Judge Kirby found that there was no probable cause for the attempted kidnapping charge, and moreover, stated that had the arrest affidavit come to him for review, he would not have authorized the case to even begin.
Ms. Lucero, Mr. Northam, and Ms. House have been deeply involved in bringing public attention and scrutiny to the Aurora Police Department’s killing of Elijah McClain and subsequent coverup of APD’s illegal actions. Based in large part on Ms. House’s, Mr. Northam’s, and Ms. Lucero’s words and actions throughout the Summer of 2020 (and in the year prior), the mass, peaceful movement for justice for Elijah McClain has brought significant local and national attention to these exceptionally important issues of police brutality and racial injustice and to force open the investigations into APD and the killing of Elijah McClain.
Statements from attorneys for the defense:
Statement from attorney Amelia Power, representing Lillian House: All of our clients were arrested on these charges without warning on September 17, 2020, by heavily armed and aggressive police. Ms. House, Ms. Lucero, and Mr. Northam were taken to the Denver jail where they were held for eight horrific days in COVID conditions before even seeing a judge to set bond or be eligible for release. To hear Judge Kirby say that he did not believe that the arrest warrant should have even been issued vindicated our clients and supports the righteousness of their cause, but it also underscores the very real, human toll it takes on individuals when the police and the prosecutors decide to use their significant power to retaliate against private citizens. Ms. House continues to face a many number of felony and misdemeanor charges in Adams and Arapahoe counties and we will fervently continue to protect her constitutional rights and make sure this system does not punish her or her important message.
Statement from attorney Adam Frank, representing Eliza Lucero: This prosecution is an assault on fundamental American values. Not only were our clients obviously engaged in political speech protected by the First Amendment, they were engaged in some of the most important political speech our state has seen in decades. They made sure the world knew that the Aurora Police Department murdered Elijah McClain, that APD refused to fire the officers who killed him, and that former DA Dave Young refused to prosecute them. APD and DA Young responded not by bringing justice to Elijah McClain’s killers, but by seeking vengeance against the protestors who dared tell the world about their wrongdoing. Now DA Mason has a choice. He didn’t create this disgrace of a prosecution, but he has inherited it. If he stands up for the First Amendment and dismisses the remaining charges against our clients, he will rightfully be praised. If he refuses and instead drags this train wreck out, then he will own it and the voters of Aurora will remember.
Statement from attorney Josh Landy, representing Joel Northam: Judge Leroy Kirby’s decision to dismiss the kidnapping charges against our clients was a righteous one. It was the first time our clients were able to participate in the judicial process and feel like they were being treated fairly; a privilege they were never afforded by the Aurora Police Department or the former elected district attorney. Instead of respecting our clients’ constitutionally protected rights to free speech, the Aurora Police Department decided to silence them and throw them in jail for crimes they didn’t commit. Rather than act as a check on the police, the former elected district attorney doubled down and charged our clients with felonies that could put them in prison for decades. Judge Kirby’s decision to reign in this misguided prosecution makes him the only member of the criminal justice system to follow his oath and protect our clients from the overreach of an angry police department and an overzealous prosecutor. It was the first time our clients felt like they were being treated with dignity and respect. It was the first time the prosecution has been told, “no.” We hope the prosecution was listening.