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Lancaster protest 'riot': Most felony charges dropped for 3 York County residents

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Most felony charges against three York County residents arrested during a civil disturbance in Lancaster City have been dropped, including arson.

Lancaster Police maintain the protest devolved into rioting.

Yoshua Montague, Barry Jones III and Talia Gessner had originally been held in Lancaster County Prison on $1 million bail each, arrested Sept. 13 while protesting a fatal police shooting.

They were released after their bail amounts were significantly reduced by presiding District Judge Bruce Roth on Sept. 17. It was Roth who originally set the $1 million bail amounts.

The trio were among 13 people jailed after being arrested at the protest.

All three York County residents appeared before Roth on Monday and waived their rights to a preliminary hearing. Their formal arraignments in Lancaster County Court are scheduled for Nov. 13, according to court records.

Black Lives Matter protesters block West Chestnut Street at North Prince Street near the Lancaster city police station on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. A man was shot by police earlier in the day after a reported domestic dispute, police said. A Lancaster city police officer fired at a 27-year-old man who was armed with a knife. The man, identified as Ricardo Munoz, was killed and pronounced dead at the scene, Blaine Shahan, LNP/LancasterOnline via AP)

Remaining charges: Jones, 30, and Gessner, 18, both of Manchester Township, are now facing trial on the misdemeanors of failing to obey orders to disperse, obstructing roadways, defiant trespass and disorderly conduct/engaging in fighting.

Gessner is still facing a felony riot charge and is now facing a summary count of dangerous burning, according to Brett Hambright, spokesperson for the Lancaster County District Attorney's Office.

The rest of Gessner's felony charges — and all of Jones' felony charges — were dropped, including arson, institutional vandalism and multiple counts of criminal conspiracy, according to court records. Jones' rioting charge was dropped, records state.

A total of seven people charged in relation to the Sept. 13 protest appeared in district court on Monday for preliminary hearings, and some had charges withdrawn or modified, according to a statement from Hambright.

Burden of proof: "The burden of proof required for arrest and conviction are entirely different standards, and after careful review of charges filed by Lancaster city police, our office made the applicable amendments necessary to secure convictions in each case consistent with the law and the evidence," the statement reads.

"Some counts of felony arson were amended to summary citations because of the value of what was burned," the statement continues.

Montague, 23, of Hallam, remains charged with the felonies of rioting and carrying a firearm without a license, as well as the misdemeanors of obstructing roadways, defiant trespass and disorderly conduct/engaging in fighting, and the summary offense of dangerous burning, records state.

His felony charges of arson, institutional vandalism and multiple counts of conspiracy were withdrawn before his case was forwarded to county court.

Gun charge: Charging documents state that when Montague was arrested, he was carrying a .45-caliber Springfield handgun in his right front pants pocket but doesn't possess a state concealed-weapons permit.

Yoshua Dwayne Montague

"My client did have a handgun," Montague's defense attorney, Michael Marinaro, told The York Dispatch. The attorney said in photos from the protest, the gun can be seen sticking out of Montague's pants pocket, meaning it wasn't concealed at least part of the time.

However, police maintain Montague's shirt concealed the handgun at times, Marinaro said. He also noted that getting the first-degree felony of arson dropped was key, as it was the most serious offense Montague faced.

"He's very happy with the way things have turned out so far," the attorney said of Montague. "We'll be fighting for his exoneration at the Court of Common Pleas."

Montague is a "good kid" with no prior record who maintains he was protesting peacefully, according to his attorney.

"He wasn't one of the troublemakers," Marinaro said.

Attorney Raymond Stout III, who represents Gessner, and attorney Andrew Cooper, representing Jones, could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Talia Gessner

The background: Upward of 300 people had congregated near the corner of West Chestnut and North Prince streets in Lancaster City on Sept. 13 to protest the fatal police shooting of Ricardo Munoz. Lancaster City's police station is at 39 W. Chestnut St.

Protesters blocked traffic, "threw bricks, rocks, glass bottles (and) plastic water bottles at the officers and police station building," charging documents allege.

The glass on the station's front door was broken out, as was a large window in the media room, police allege. The windows of an unmarked Lancaster County detective vehicle also were smashed, police said, adding estimated damage for all the broken windows is $6,000.

About 2:30 a.m. Sept. 14, "subjects in the crowd stacked a pile of debris in the middle of the intersection" that included signs and a dumpster, then lit the pile on fire, documents allege.

Officers witnessed all three of them "throwing listed items at police, failing to disperse when ordered, and/or adding items to the fire in the street," documents allege.

Fatal police shooting: The protests were over the shooting death by police of the 27-year-old Munoz, whose sister had called authorities in hopes of having him involuntarily committed for mental-health treatment, The Associated Press has reported.

Barry Marshall Jones III

Lancaster Police have made public the officer’s body camera video. It shows Munoz approaching the officer with a knife in what appears to be a menacing manner before the officer shot and killed him.

Police said it happened about 4:15 p.m. Sept. 13 in the 300 block of Laurel Street and that Munoz's sister reported he was becoming aggressive with his mother and trying to break into her home.

Munoz had been out on bail, awaiting trial for allegations he stabbed four people last year, including a teenage boy who was stabbed in the face, the AP reported.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

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