Charges Dropped Against UT Austin, Columbia University Pro-Palestine Protesters

Criminal trespassing charges were dropped against 79 UT Austin protesters and 31 Columbia protesters.
Published: July 1, 2024

District attorneys in Austin and New York City announced charges have been dropped against dozens of people who participated in pro-Palestine protests at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin and Columbia University campuses back in April.

Criminal trespassing charges against 79 people arrested during the protest at UT Austin were dismissed, the local prosecutor’s office announced Wednesday.

“After examining and weighing all the evidence presented, we have determined that we cannot meet our legal burden to prove these 79 criminal trespass cases beyond reasonable doubt, and they will be dismissed,” Travis County Attorney Delia Garza said at a news conference.

On April 24, police arrested 57 protesters at a demonstration on UT’s campus after Governor Greg declared the protest antisemitic. Most of the protesters were released soon after and all criminal trespassing charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence and “deficiencies” in probable cause arrest affidavits written by officers.

RELATED: Cal State LA: Pro-Palestinian Protesters Vandalize Campus Building

During a second protest on April 29, 79 people, including 34 students, were arrested at an encampment at the school’s South Mall. Protesters and officers clashed, resulting in officers deploying flash bangs and tear gas before zip-tying dozens of demonstrators and loading them into vans, USA Today reports.

The dismissals related to the April 29 protest only apply to criminal trespassing, Garza said, noting additional charges or obstructing a highway or passageway and interfering with public duty are still pending. Garza also said the office spent 90 hours reviewing evidence, including body camera footage and hundreds of pages of offense reports.

“We also have the responsibility to determine if pursuing any case is in the interest of justice, in the interest of public safety, and aligns with the values of this community,” she said.

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UT Officials, Arrested Protesters Speak Out on Dismissals

UT spokesperson Mike Rosen said school officials are disappointed by the decision to drop charges.

“We respect the law and are deeply disappointed by the County Attorney’s actions. The University will continue to use the law enforcement and administrative tools at our disposal to maintain safety and operational continuity for our 53,000 students who come to campus to learn, regardless of whether the criminal justice system shares this commitment,” the statement said. “Actions that violate laws and Institutional Rules should be met with consequences, not with political posturing and press conferences.”

Both UT System Chairman Kevin Eltife and Governor Abbott have said requests to divest from Israeli companies and universities will not happen.

Several protesters who had charges against them dismissed praised the decision to dismiss charges.

“I hope this makes a lot more people feel strongly about protecting their freedom of speech and using their voice to speak up against terrible things,” said Austin resident Hanna Barakart, who was arrested during the April 29 protest. “That’s all we were there for.”

Sam Law, a UT graduate student who was also arrested during the April 29 protest, said he and other students are considering civil litigation.

“The overreach and violence of our arrests was deeply traumatic and personally sent a clear message that our free speech rights weren’t being respected,” he said.

Charges Dropped Against 31 Columbia University Protesters

On June 20, most people arrested during the occupation of Columbia University’s Hamilton Hall also had their cases dropped.

Protesters seized the administration building on April 30, and the university called the New York City Police Department for support. Officers used tactical vehicles to enter the barricaded building through windows and arrested dozens.

“After the University learned overnight that Hamilton Hall had been occupied, vandalized, and blockaded, we were left with no choice,” the school said in a statement. “The decision to reach out to the NYPD was in response to the actions of the protesters, not the cause they are championing. We have made it clear that the life of campus cannot be endlessly interrupted by protesters who violate the rules and the law.”

RELATED: Columbia University Settles with Jewish Student Over Pro-Palestine Protest Security Issues

Of the 46 people charged with trespassing, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office dismissed cases against 31 people largely due to a lack of evidence, according to NBC News.

“It would be extremely difficult for the people to prove any charge of misconduct,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Stephen Millan said in Manhattan Criminal Court, adding those who had their cases dropped had no criminal history.

Prosecutors told the remaining defendants that their cases would be dropped if they avoided being arrested in the next six months. However, they all rejected the offer and are due back in court on July 25

Those arrested included at least 14 Columbia undergraduates, nine graduate students, two employees, six students from affiliated schools, and at least 13 with no affiliation with Columbia, according to a university spokesperson.

Dozens of people associated with the grassroots movement #EndJewishHatred gathered outside the offices of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on June 24 to voice disappointment in the decision to drop charges, Fox reports.

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