Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson decided Wednesday that she won’t try to revive a restorative justice process with 17 Black Lives Matter protesters.

Her decision came hours after Superior Court Justice Lance Walker denied her effort to restore criminal charges against the protesters, who were arrested in July after blocking Commercial Street in Portland during a demonstration over police shootings of black men nationwide.

Walker ordered both sides to make another attempt at holding a restorative justice meeting.

But at a news conference late Wednesday afternoon, Anderson said the meeting is not going to happen unless the protesters request it.

“Going over the events of the past six months, we’ve decided we’re not going to do that,” Anderson said. “We have seen nothing from the Black Lives Matter demonstrators to suggest that they want to have a conversation. They have been resistant to that all along. At this point we’ve concluded that they really don’t have any complaints about the city of Portland or the Portland Police Department.”

Anderson said those arrested had originally pleaded guilty to violating a city ordinance on disorderly conduct, paid $200 in fines and agreed to attend a restorative justice meeting with police to air concerns on both sides.

She said the criminal charges are still on file and could be reactivated if the protesters were to commit new criminal offenses. Otherwise, the charges will be dismissed in six months.

Anderson said the protesters have not been clear about why they have a beef with the city or its police department.

“They’ve had three opportunities to discuss their grievances and they haven’t wanted to do that,” she said.

A reporter asked Anderson how she would feel if the criminal charges were dismissed in six months.

“I’d feel like justice was done in this case,” she said, noting the $200 fines. “We wanted to understand what their concerns were. We wanted to have a conversation with them. We’re disappointed that they don’t want to do that, but we’re fine with the way it worked out.”

Attorney Tom Hallett, who represented one of the defendants, Alba Briggs, said the decision by Anderson’s office means the protesters are in the clear.

“I think it was important that the Black Lives Matter protesters had their day in court and that they were proven to be right,” Hallett said. “The movement has been vindicated.”

The courts ordered Portland police and the protesters to hold a restorative justice meeting earlier this year. But that meeting, held Feb. 1, fell apart after protesters refused to be split into two groups to meet with Police Chief Michael Sauschuck. Lawyers for the protesters objected to a prosecutor sitting in on the meeting.

Anderson said she was advised that breaking the protesters into two groups would lead to a more productive meeting. But she also said the protesters would need to have a different attitude in order for the meeting to have been meaningful.

When asked what she meant by having a different attitude, Anderson replied, “They’re just protesters. They don’t have a message. They don’t have a complaint. They don’t have nothing to say except Black Lives Matter, and that’s a bumper sticker.”

Restorative justice is a movement to offer an alternative to retributive justice and its emphasis on punishment and separating offenders from society.

Key tenets of restorative justice include giving voice to victims, having offenders accept accountability and giving communities affected by crimes ways to heal.

The DA’s office argued in a day-long hearing before Walker last week that the protesters had breached their plea agreement when the restorative justice meeting fell apart, so the office wanted to restore the original criminal charges against the protesters. Most would have been charged with obstructing public ways and failure to disperse, but some faced more serious charges.

In the plea agreement, the protesters agreed to meet in the restorative justice session “as directed” by the DA’s office. But the protesters’ lawyers said they assumed that meant the DA’s office would simply set up the meeting and notify the protesters of a date and location.

Instead, the DA’s office said the group would be split in two, a prosecutor would take part and two “community observers” also would be on hand.

The defendants’ lawyers said they would have told their clients to reject the agreement if they had known the DA’s office was going to set conditions. They said having a prosecutor sit in on the meeting was particularly onerous because their clients’ right against self-incrimination would be jeopardized. The protesters also wanted to attend as one group for solidarity.

Walker ruled that the “as directed” language was ambiguous, the defendants’ plan to meet in one group was a minor breach of the agreement, and the DA’s office still needed to try to hold the meeting.

“Under these circumstances, the state was not free to consider the transaction at an end, leave the meeting and have the court declare that the defendants breached the agreement,” Walker said in his order. He said the DA’s office “has an obligation to make it work.”

His order also says the restorative justice meeting was part of the plea deal and both sides should work toward fulfilling its terms.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

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