New York

Manhattan DA drops charges against most of the Columbia University protesters

Of the 46 people arrested in connection with the occupation of the university's Hamilton Hall, 31 had their charges dismissed

Nearly all of the people who were arrested inside Columbia University’s Hamilton Hall last month had their cases dropped Thursday. 

Of the 46 people charged with trespassing in connection with the building’s occupation, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office dismissed cases against 31 people largely due to a lack of evidence. Prosecutors told 14 others that their cases will be dropped if they avoid being arrested in the next six months. 

The remaining defendant, James Carlson, has two other open cases against him, involving separate charges, including flag burning. Carlson has no affiliation with the school.

Dramatic bodycam video released by the NYPD Thursday shows heavily geared officers' breach of the formerly occupied Hamilton Hall at Columbia University, where more than 100 were arrested during a sweep this week.

Protesters had seized the building on the Manhattan campus of Columbia University on April 30 as demonstrations against the war in Gaza erupted on some U.S. college campuses and as tensions at Columbia intensified over mass suspensions.

Dozens were arrested the next day when police with riot helmets cleared the damaged and barricaded building. 

Those arrested included at least 14 Columbia undergraduates, nine graduate students, two employees, and six students from affiliated schools, a Columbia spokesperson previously said. At least 13 of them had no affiliation with Columbia, the school said.

The 31 people whose cases were dismissed were students or staff at Columbia, Barnard or Union Theological Seminary.

Of the defendants who will later have their cases dismissed, pending no further arrests, 12 were not staff members or students at Columbia and two were students, the district attorney's office said.

During the court appearances Thursday afternoon, a prosecutor said the defendants do not have criminal histories and that they will face internal disciplinary proceedings at Columbia. 

A Columbia University official said the disciplinary process is ongoing but declined to comment further.

The prosecutor said it would have been “extremely difficult” to prove the dismissed cases because the district attorney’s office lacks evidence, including surveillance footage from cameras that were covered up. The fact that some of the defendants wore masks also made it difficult to identify their specific actions.

An attorney for the defendants asked the court to immediately dismiss the charges against all of the accused, saying there are no allegations that the defendants hurt people or damaged property.

In the downtown courtroom, some of the defendants wore face masks and some wore kaffiyehs, which are distinctly patterned Palestinian scarves. At least two wore sunglasses.

As the hearings began, police confiscated what appeared to be a protest sign found under one of the seats.

When a prosecutor told the court that Carlson was accused of burning an Israeli flag, some of the defendants seated in the room could be heard snickering. A police officer instructed them to be quiet.

Hamilton Hall was famously occupied by people protesting the Vietnam War in 1968. 

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