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Courts and Crime

Video Exonerates Portland Activist Accused Of Brandishing Gun During Protest Of Police Violence

portland protest george floyd.jpg
Ed Morin
/
Maine Public
Hundreds protesting George Floyd's killing stage a "die-in" in June 2020 in front of the Portland Police Department.

Cumberland County prosecutors have dropped their case against a Portland activist who was charged with flashing a handgun and threatening a passerby during one of last summer’s demonstrations against police violence.

Rocco Wong, 33, was arrested on a felony charge of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon after joining the Sept. 7 protest and allegedly flashing a gun at a passing motorcyclist. The 50-year-old biker told police he was stopped and surrounded by about 10 demonstrators, then threatened by Wong.

But Wong was exonerated this week after fellow protesters shared video from the event with defense attorney Tina Nadeau. Nadeau presented the video during a hearing in mid-March, and the felony charge was dismissed on Wednesday by the office of Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck.

Nadeau said the video showed that a counter-protester was antagonizing the group of younger, peaceful demonstrators that included Wong.

It also showed that the motorcyclist arrived and approached Wong, who was carrying a gun at the time for self-defense but didn't grab it, according to Nadeau.

“My client was walking away. It shows very clearly my client’s hands were up in the air or in their pockets, that there was no threatening whatsoever on the part of my client and that actually corroborates my client’s story that they tried to tell that night to police,” Nadeau says.

Nadeau was unable to share a copy of the video.

But in a court document dismissing Wong’s case, prosecutors said there was “Insufficient evidence in light of video provided by defense counsel.”

In an interview, Sahrbeck said he dismissed the charge after seeing the video in mid-March and that he wished it had been presented earlier.

A Portland police spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Nadeau says that the case demonstrates the importance of activists recording their interactions with police -- a lesson that she says is reinforced by the ongoing trial of a Minneapolis officer who was videotaped killing George Floyd last spring, setting off many of the protests last spring and summer.

Nadeau also hopes Wong's name can be cleared in the media, and she's calling on news organizations to try to present both sides when protesters of police violence and racial injustice are arrested.

Without the video, Nadeau said, Wong’s case would have gone to trial and Wong might have been convicted based on “lies.” She noted that her client is a person-of-color and the two men whose testimony led to his arrest were white.