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Judge dismisses charges against 5 from Olympia

A Tacoma municipal court judge dismissed the charges Wednesday against five Olympia residents and eight others arrested during war protests at the Port of Tacoma in March.

The protesters were charged with failure to comply with a police officer’s instructions after being arrested during the protests. They and others had gathered at the port to demonstrate against deployment of a Fort Lewis Stryker brigade to Iraq. The Olympia protesters were Phan Nguyen, Wes Hamilton, Jody Tiller, Matthew Reiss III and Somerset Fetter.

Judge Pro Tem Karl Haugh ruled Wednesday that city prosecutors misinterpreted a state law when they charged the 13. That law allows officers directing traffic to arrest people who don’t comply with their commands.

Haugh said officers at the port were practicing crowd control, not directing traffic, when they arrested protesters who crossed into a barricaded area carrying backpacks and purses against the officers’ orders.

“I cannot see the applicability of that statute to these cases,” Haugh said, prompting cheers from the protesters and their supporters.

Nguyen said Wednesday that he was relieved.

“I was expecting a dismissal,” he said. “I just couldn’t imagine this going much further because the charges were so baseless.”

Assistant city attorney Charles Lee had tried to argue that the officers were directing traffic by trying to keep streets in the area clear for Army trucks driving from Fort Lewis to the ship destined to take them to the Middle East.

Haugh didn’t bite. The law Lee cited was meant to regulate traffic, “not crowds, not people,” he said.

Charges including obstruction, assault and failure to disperse charges remain in effect for 10 other protesters arrested during the demonstrations, eight of whom are scheduled to be in court Aug. 17. Olympia residents Caitlin Esworthy, Jeffrey Berryhill, Wally Cuddeford still face charges.

Olympian night city editor Brian Sandford contributed to this report. Adam Lynn can be reached at 253-597-8644 or adam.lynn@thenewstribune.com.

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