Attorney for Lewis and Clark County Dismisses Charges for Arrested Montana Capitol Protesters

Law enforcement officers made seven arrests after the April 24 protest in the House of Representatives gallery for misdemeanor criminal trespassing

By Nicole Girten, Daily Montanan
The Montana State Capitol building in Helena. Beacon file photo

The Lewis and Clark County Attorney’s Office dismissed cases against all seven of the protesters who were arrested at the Montana State Capitol in April.

Law enforcement officers made seven arrests after the April 24 protest in the House of Representatives gallery for misdemeanor criminal trespassing, and county attorney Deanna Rothwell moved to dismiss the charges for all of the protesters last week, according to court documents.

The dismissal for protester Mckenzie Carter has yet to be filed with the court, according to Justice Court Supervisor Paul Whitham on Tuesday. However, documents show Carter was sent a signed copy of the motion to dismiss. Republican House leadership condemned the motion, while one protester said this was a demonstration of “excessive force” from the beginning.

The protest started in the House Gallery after Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, the first openly transgender woman in the Montana Legislature, was not permitted to speak on the House floor following comments she made when she told fellow lawmakers there would be blood on the hands of legislators who voted in favor of a bill that prohibited gender-affirming care for minors.

Protesters screamed “Let her speak!” and threw gloves with fake blood on them onto the floor from the gallery. During the protest, Speaker Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, requested the Sergeant of Arms clear the gallery and members clear the floor, while Zephyr remained with her microphone in the air. Days later Republicans in the House voted to censure Zephyr for the remainder of the session.

Rothwell’s motion to dismiss vacated any scheduled hearings and exonerated any bonds saying it was “in the best interests of justice.” She did not respond to a voicemail requesting comment on the decision to dismiss in time for publication.

Regier, who leads the House as part of a Republican supermajority, told the Daily Montanan on Tuesday the motion was “very disappointing.”

“It’s kind of a microcosm of the erosion of law and order that we’ve seen, even just across our nation where you can riot and shut down the Montana House of Representatives and nothing happens,” Regier said.

As far as what public access will look like in the next legislative session, Regier said that’s up for elected officials to decide in 2025. He said since the consequences were “nothing,” that it puts a new light on safety for legislators and staff.

“We need calmer temperatures, not higher temperatures,” he said.

Zephyr said in a tweeted statement that Tuesday was a “victory” and she is grateful to protesters’ “dedication to democracy and overjoyed to see that the charges against you were dropped.”

“When I find the strength to stand up in the legislature, I do so knowing that I am standing in solidarity with a long history of those who stood up to defend democracy. That history now includes each of you. May you find respite in these charges being dropped, and may you continue to work towards bettering Montana and the lives of all those who call it home,” she said. “If we are to safeguard our democracy, we must work to ensure that the Republican party of Montana does not continue to have the supermajority that allowed them undercut democracy in the first place.”

Protester Paul Kim said in a statement that “despite the best efforts of the ultraconservative supermajority, it is still legal in the state of Montana to speak up and participate in your democracy.”

“Helena prosecutors refusing to pursue charges against Capitol protestors confirms the reaction many Montanans had to the events of April 24: Peaceful protestors in our state’s capitol should never be met with excessive force from hostile law enforcement in full riot gear,” Kim said.

This story originally appeared in the The Daily Montanan, which can be found online at dailymontanan.com.