A judge last week dismissed all charges against one of six Denver-area protest leaders who were arrested after organizing demonstrations against police brutality in Aurora during the summer.
Prosecutors in the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office requested Thursday that the four felony charges against Russell Ruch, 33, be dismissed, according to court records.
“The people feel that the ends of justice could not be further served by continued prosecution of the defendant,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Clinton McKinzie wrote in the motion, which was filed seven days after new District Attorney John Kellner was sworn in to replace George Brauchler, who brought the charges.
“This was a purely political prosecution,” said attorney Joshua Amos, who represented Ruch along with attorney Martin Stuart.
Ruch was one of six protest organizers who were charged in September on a variety counts — ranging from kidnapping to inciting a riot — in what Ruch’s attorneys say was a clear attempt to quash the protests, which centered on the death of Elijah McClain, who died after he was violently stopped by Aurora police in 2019.
“We believe it was an egregious abuse of the legal process,” Amos said of the charges against Ruch. “The criminal justice system should not be used as a political tool to silence constitutionally protected free speech.”
A spokeswoman for Kellner declined to comment on the dismissal Monday. Brauchler, who is no longer district attorney but is continuing to work in the office to handle the high-profile STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting case, said his decision to charge the protesters was not politically motivated.
“I’ve never made a political decision about charging in my career, and this was no different from that,” he said.
Ruch, who has no criminal history, was accused of two felony counts of theft and two felony counts of conspiracy to commit theft after video taken during a June protest showed him standing in a crowd of protesters as another person took a handmade sign from a counter-protester, according to a 39-page affidavit detailing the allegations against all six leaders. The affidavit says the video shows Ruch “knows the theft is occurring and appears to actively assist… in the theft of the sign.”
The video actually made it clear Ruch didn’t steal anything, his attorneys said Monday, noting that there are many hours of video evidence in the case and that no new evidence has been discovered since the charges were filed — nothing, they said, that would suddenly change the facts of the case.
The prosecution’s request for the charges to be dropped indicates prosecutors “didn’t have a case,” Stuart said.
The charges against the other five protest leaders — Terrance Roberts, Lillian House, Joel Northam, Whitney Lucero and Trey Quinn — are still pending, according to court records.
House, Northam and Lucero are scheduled for preliminary hearings on March 9 in Adams County District Court. Quinn’s case is set for arraignment on Feb. 23, and a jury trial is scheduled to start April 14 for Roberts.
Some of the charges that House, Northam and Roberts face stem from a July 12 protest in Aurora during which a driver drove his Jeep through a crowd of protesters who were blocking an interstate. As the Jeep drove through, protester Samuel Young is accused of shooting at the Jeep, striking two people in the crowd.
Young, who was charged with attempted first-degree murder in the shooting, appeared in court Monday and his case was set for a March 15 arraignment. His attorney, Andrew Castle, said during the brief court appearance that plea negotiations with the district attorney’s office were ongoing.
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