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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Charges against those in a Capitol protest supporting Zephyr get dropped

Montana Capitol building.
William Marcus
Montana Public Radio

Criminal charges filed against seven people involved in a demonstration at the state Capitol last spring have been dropped.

Protestors filled the public gallery of the Montana House of Representatives in April in opposition to the censure of Rep. Zooey Zephyr, a Democrat from Missoula.

When Zephyr, one of the state’s first transgender lawmakers, was blocked from speaking on the House floor over a decorum violation, the protestors began chanting and yelling.

Speaker of the House Matt Regier called on law enforcement to clear the gallery and police in riot gear forcibly removed those who refused to leave.

Seven people were arrested for criminal trespassing and taken to the county jail for booking. But this week, the Lewis and Clark County Attorney’s office dropped those charges, writing in a motion it’s in “the best interest of justice.”

County Attorney Kevin Downs did not return a request for comment for further explanation.

Rep. Zephyr said in the statement she is overjoyed to see the charges dropped and that she stands in solidarity with those who “stood up to defend democracy.” She said they were exercising their right to peacefully protest against the government.

Zephyr was later barred from entering the House floor as punishment for her participation in the demonstration.

In an interview Wednesday, Speaker of the House Regier said he was disappointed by the county attorney’s decision and maintained his characterization of the events as a riot.

“There’s been an erosion of law and order now for a few years. And you saw that with defund the police and that kind of movement has real ramifications and I think you’re seeing that now,” Regier said.

Regier said what happened at the Capitol in April will likely influence future rules debates over how lawmakers run the session and allow the public to participate.

Shaylee covers state government and politics for Montana Public Radio. Please share tips, questions and concerns at 406-539-1677 or  
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