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.

Protesters demonstrate in neighborhood of Colorado Springs police officer involved in death of De'Von Bailey
Arrests follow what Colorado Springs police call 'a riot' during De'Von Bailey protest

Reach Olivia at olivia.prentzel@gazette.com.

Twitter: @oliviaprentzel

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