Charles Johnson, one of three people arrested after a protest outside the home of a Colorado Springs police officer, pleaded not guilty in court Tuesday, with his attorney branding him a victim of a “political prosecution.”
Johnson, 20, was charged with several felonies including menacing during a brief appearance before 4th Judicial District Judge Marcus Henson.
“We are asserting that it was not a riot. That it was a protest, at least for Charles,” Johnson’s attorney, Alison Blackwell, said of the Aug. 3 protest that police called a “riot.” The judge scheduled a Jan. 11 jury trial.
Johnson rose to prominence as one of the leaders of mostly peaceful protests that erupted in Colorado Springs after the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed Black man who died in Minneapolis after a police officer knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes, ignoring his pleas for air.
Johnson and two other demonstrators were arrested more than a month after a crowd marched Aug. 3 in the Pulpit Rock neighborhood near the home of Alan Van’t Land, an officer who fatally shot 19-year-old De’Von Bailey in August 2019. Police said in a news release that the three were engaging in "riotous and illegal behavior" in which guns were brandished.
Johnson was charged Tuesday with menacing, attempted robbery, attempted theft, engaging in a riot without a weapon — all felonies — and misdemeanor counts of obstructing traffic and disobeying a public safety order.
About 30 demonstrators gathered outside the El Paso County courthouse in Johnson’s support on Tuesday morning, holding signs that read “Drop the Bogus Charges,” “This isn’t a riot” and “The system is guilty.”
Before his hearing, Johnson stood outside with the protesters alongside Blackwell, and his brother, Chauncey, who also led demonstrations downtown following Floyd's death.
A second person arrested after the protest at Van’t Land’s home, Sherrie Smith, briefly appeared in a different courtroom, where prosecutors formally filed charges against her. Her attorney did not enter a plea and instead requested an arraignment, which was scheduled for Oct. 20.