Fourteen people arrested last spring during an unauthorized celebration on Ninth Street may have a new cause to celebrate.
Those arrested, including several Durham residents and Duke students, will most likely escape punishment without criminal records for April's party-turned-brawl, attorneys said this week. The district attorney's office is currently offering deals for either deferred prosecution or prayers for judgment continued, and will require those arrested to perform community service. If they accept these deals and behave lawfully in the future, their records will remain untarnished.
David Blocher, a junior and Durham native, was one of three Duke students arrested after the incident. Charged with resisting, obstructing and delaying justice, a misdemeanor, he recently made a deal and is working on clearing his record.
"I learned a lot about our judicial system," Blocher said. "I'm not really angry, just sad that something like this could happen in Durham."
The so-called "street party" took place on the afternoon of April 13, when more than 200 people in costume crowded onto Ninth Street beating drums, playing music and waving flags. Protesting the way in which they said streets are no longer viable locations for social interaction, the revelers wanted to "define [their] own terms for celebration," according to the event's website. They did not apply for a permit, however, and when they began obstructing traffic, police were quick to take action. A near-riot ensued.
"The organizers were planning to have so many people that the street would be forced to close, which is the part that the cops weren't cool with," said sophomore Alison Constantine, who was pepper-sprayed during the confusion.
Those arrested were taken to the Durham County Jail, where others continued to protest outside, eventually collecting enough money to bail out those arrested. All but one were charged with misdemeanors, but one local resident, Maria Brubeck, was charged with felonious assault because she allegedly hit an officer with her bicycle. Some still contest the validity of the charges.
"I felt that in almost all cases the charges were made up after the fact to justify the arrests," Constantine said.
Defense attorney Marvin Sparrow, who represented nine of the 14 arrested, attributed many of the charges to confusion on the part of the police.
"The police would see someone doing something, then run over and grab the wrong person. Many of those arrested had done nothing more than stand there and complain about people being arrested," Sparrow said.
He also said some of the charges were inaccurate. "Many were charged with 'failing to disperse upon command,' but in fact there had never been a command."
Assistant District Attorney John Phillips said that an outside organization was the main factor behind the incident.
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"These cases were unfortunate because there was an outside group that was responsible. People didn't know what they were getting into," he said. "I would hope they would not be involved further with that group."
Phillips said the group is "active in this area and will probably have more demonstrations in the future," but he declined to release the organization's name.