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City Attorney to Drop Assault Charge Against Melina Abdullah After Wave of Protest

[dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]os Angeles city prosecutors on Thursday offered to drop charges against a prominent black professor and civil rights leader who allegedly tugged at the arm of an LAPD officer during an emotional and tumultuous Police Commission meeting.

Dr. Melina Abdullah, a co-founder and lead organizer of Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles, faced eight misdemeanor charges for assault, resisting arrest, and disrupting a public meeting stemming from the incident last May. But the activist leader and her supporters say the charges were overblown and Abdullah was targeted for her outspoken criticism of the LAPD’s use of force.

She could have faced a year or more in jail.

Abdullah, a professor and chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University-Los Angeles, had characterized the city’s charges against her as an attempt to “criminalize black protest.”

The case against Abdullah began at a tumultuous meeting of the L.A. Police Commission on May 8, 2018. At the meeting, Sheila Hines-Brim, who is aunt of Wakiesha Wilson, a 36-year-old woman who died in LAPD custody in 2016, pelted then-Police Chief Charlie Beck with a handful of a powdery substance that she said was her niece’s cremation ashes.

In the commotion that followed, prosecutors alleged that Abdullah grabbed detective Jason Curtis, a supervisor for the LAPD’s Commission Investigation Division, which provides security at the meetings. Curtis told investigators that he felt a tug on his arm as he was escorting Hines-Brim out of the room. When he turned, he said, he saw Abdullah standing there. LAPD officers put her in handcuffs and held her in custody for several hours.  

Abdullah told detectives she did not recall touching Curtis, and none of the officers whose statements are in the police report said they witnessed an arm-grab. Gina Viola, a woman with the activist group White People 4 Black Lives, has repeatedly claimed responsibility.

'We have been fighting the city attorney for months.'

The office of Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer charged Abdullah on July 24 with one count of battery on a police officer, a misdemeanor. By the time of the arraignment on August 31, city prosecutors had added seven new counts to the case against her, bringing the total to eight.

The new charges dated back nearly a year, to two separate Police Commission meetings from summer 2017. They included a count of failure to obey an order to disperse and multiple counts of willfully disturbing a public meeting and interfering with the business of a public agency, all misdemeanors.

Prosecutors asserted in court filings that they were ready to call as many as 17 LAPD officers to testify as witnesses against a defendant who is perhaps the department’s most prominent critic.  

The city attorney’s office filed the charges against Abdullah on July 24, 2018, one day before the statute of limitations was due to expire for the one of the incidents – a fact which Abdullah’s lawyers used to argue in one court motion that the decision to press charges was “a cynical attempt by law enforcement to silence one of the loudest and most effective critics of LAPD practices.”

Abdullah has every week held a protest outside D.A. Jackie Lacey's office, calling for her resignation, as noted recently in The LAnd magazine.

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]n the past four years, Abdullah has built strong bonds with the families of people killed by police, or who died in police custody, organizing them into a formidable group of advocates seeking greater accountability for police use of force in Los Angeles. When it was Abdullah’s turn to address supporters outside the court on Thursday, she held the hand of Lisa Hines, who is Wakiesha Wilson’s mother.

The city’s agreement with Abdullah’s attorneys that stipulates the charges will be dropped in six months provided Abdullah obeys the law, according to a copy of the agreement filed with the court. It also stipulates that if she disrupts a police commission meeting she’ll be escorted out and not allowed back in, as per the rules, but not arrested. It does not put her on probation of any kind.  

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the office of Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, said in a written statement that the agreement met the city’s goal “to ensure that Commission meetings are not disrupted in ways that prevent other members of the public from participating, while protecting individuals' right to say what they mean.”

'The community refused to allow me to be picked off.'

Abdullah and her lead counsel in the case, attorney Carl Douglas, declared victory after the court appearance.

“We have been fighting the city attorney for months,” Douglas said to a cheering crowd of supporters gathered on the steps of L.A. County Superior Court in downtown. “We have continued to maintain our innocence. And today, they surrendered.”

Abdullah gave credit to the support of thousands who signed letters and petitions, made phone calls, and pressured the city attorney on social media to drop the charges against her.

The group Scholars for Black Lives sent a separate letter to Feuer’s office on Abdullah’s behalf, signed by 350 academics. The California Faculty Association, the union that represents faculty in the CSU system, also issued a request for the charges to be dropped.

In an interview later in the day, Abdullah said she was relieved and expressed hope that the decision will "invigorate the movement."

"The community refused to allow me to be picked off. They said, if you come for one of us, you come for all of us. And if we stand up for other things then we can win them too."

RELATED: Video: Black Lives Matter Calls for Boycotts of 24 Hour Fitness and Walgreens ~ Nash Baker Reports

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