PORTLAND, Maine — A judge has blocked state prosecutors’ efforts to reinstate criminal charges against 17 Black Lives Matter protesters who were arrested in Portland last summer and ordered the protesters and Portland police to try again at talking through their differences in a so-called “restorative justice” session.
Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Lance Walker’s Tuesday ruling orders protesters and prosecutors to try to fulfill the conditions of a plea deal that broke down earlier this year.
The deal, which would see the protester’s misdemeanor charges dropped, fell apart in February after the protesters and Cumberland County Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Ackerman could not agree on the logistics of a restorative justice session. After the scheduled meeting went to shambles, the district attorney moved to reinstate the criminal charges to an active court docket, which the protesters lawyers resisted, leading to the dispute that Walker ruled on this week.
“The parties freely entered into a plainly worded filing agreement that required a restorative justice meeting and they remain bound to fulfill those terms, which absent an amendment to the agreement, is precisely what they shall do,” Walker wrote.
The decision not to reinstate the charges was welcomed by Tina Heather Nadeau, who is one of more than a dozen lawyers representing the protesters, but it appears that a restorative justice session will not go forward.
In a press conference Wednesday afternoon District Attorney Stephanie Anderson said that the state will not pursue another attempt at the restorative justice session, noting that she has seen “nothing from the Black Lives Matter demonstrators to suggest that they actually want to have a conversation,” according to a video by WCSH 6.
“We’ve conclude that they really don’t have any complaints about the city of Portland or the Portland police department, and if they do and they would still like the opportunity to speak with the police department or the DA’s office, we would be happy to speak with them,” said Anderson.
This means that, absent any new criminal charges, the protester’s charges will sit inactive until they are finally dismissed on July 26, according to Nadeau.
“My clients are very pleased,” she said.
The restorative justice agreement called for the protesters to sit down with city police to talk over their differences, to encourage mutual understanding between offenders and those affected by a crime. The Portland Center for Restorative Justice had agreed to lead the discussion between police and protesters with the goal of helping each side understand the others’ motives and decisions.
The protesters were arrested last July during a demonstration that blocked a busy downtown intersection for several hours. The rally came at a high point of racial tension across the country, after police killed two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota and a black army veteran shot dead five Dallas police officers.
The settlement agreement would have marked the first time restorative justice has been used in a civil disobedience case in Maine, according to Anderson. It also includes conditions the protesters each pay a fine for a city ordinance violation and make a donation to a victims compensation fund, which they have done.