City to drop charges against war protesters


All charges will be dropped against 40 war protestors who were arrested last week when they blocked an entrance to the Garmatz Federal Courthouse in downtown Baltimore, prosecutors said yesterday.

"We do not believe that these cases are viable for successful prosecution." said Margaret T. Burns, spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office. "We don't believe there is sufficient evidence."

The so-called Garmatz 40 were arrested March 21 and charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, failure to obey a lawful order and loitering at the building that houses U.S. District Court.

The group was protesting the United States' invasion of Iraq, which began over a week ago.

Starting at about 9 a.m. in front of the courthouse on West Lombard Street, demonstrators carried signs and shouted antiwar slogans.

A team of more than 60 city police officers and federal security officials blocked members of the group from entering the building, prompting some protesters to lie in front of an entrance to an underground parking garage. They blocked a van of prisoners from leaving the driveway, and were arrested.

Mary Fletcher, 39, a student at Essex Community College who had never been arrested, said she was relieved to hear prosecutors were not proceeding with charges.

"That's wonderful." she said when she heard the news. "The court system in Baltimore City is so clogged anyway. In my opinion, they don't want to weigh down the system anymore. I'm sure they didn't want 40 of us coming in and requesting a jury trial."

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