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Cases move forward for those arrested at UMass pro-Palestine protest

Attorney Rachel Weber and a defendant, left, appear before Eastern Hampshire District Court Judge Bruce Melikian on Monday, July 8, 2024, when those police arrested at a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on May 7 were back in court.
Dusty Christensen
Attorney Rachel Weber and a defendant, left, appear before Eastern Hampshire District Court Judge Bruce Melikian on Monday, July 8, 2024, when those police arrested at a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on May 7 were back in court.

The more than 130 people who police arrested at a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on May 7 are back in court this week. And for some, their cases are already moving toward resolution.

There were 20 defendants who appeared in court Monday on charges including trespassing and failure to disperse. Prosecutors said that police watched hundreds of hours of body-camera footage to determine who did, and didn’t, resist arrest. For those who prosecutor Michael Russo said “submitted to the arrest, put their hands behind their back and were taken out of the crowd peacefully,” prosecutors offered to “divert” their cases out of criminal court.

“These matters are going to be continued to Nov. 8,” Judge Bruce Melikian explained to the four defendants who accepted that deal on Monday. “If you comply with the conditions of the adult-diversion program, the matters will be dismissed at that time.”

In a statement, Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan said prosecutors offered defendants arrangements “that are in keeping with their behavior at the time of arrests.”

“Our office sees no reason to be punitive to defendants who were peacefully protesting, engaging with democracy and exercising their right to speak freely,” Sullivan said. “We believe the offer of a diversion opportunity is just and fair, in keeping with the circumstances of each case.”

Among those who took that deal was Lucas Valentine. His attorney, Luke Ryan, said he was a photojournalist who showed up to document the police reaction, didn’t hear any dispersal order and was swept up in the arrests.

The other 16 defendants on Monday had their cases continued until September. Some of them may ultimately take their cases to trial.

Court proceedings will take place all this week and early next for those arrested, given the large number of defendants continuing to face criminal charges.

Attorney Rachel Weber represented most of the defendants. Speaking outside the courtroom, Weber said, “If this protest had been about anything other than Palestine, we would not be here.”

“This is unfortunately part of a crackdown, trying to suppress open, public, democratic conversations about this genocide and our country’s complicity – and our university’s complicity – in that genocide,” she said.

UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes has faced a vote of no confidence from faculty for calling in the police on protesters, as well as criticism from a coalition of unions on campus and others.

Reyes has said the encampment that protesters had erected that day "posed a significant danger."

A university spokesperson previously declined to comment on the court cases, saying the school doesn’t weigh in on “active investigations.”

Disclosure: UMass holds the operating license for NEPM's main frequency.

Dusty Christensen is an investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He currently teaches news writing and reporting at UMass Amherst.
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