The United States has quietly dropped assault charges against 11 bodyguards of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who were accused of attacking protesters in Washington last year. The Superior Court in Washington confirmed Thursday that charges against four were dropped last November and another seven on February 14.
No reasons were given for government prosecutors’ decision to seek dismissal of the cases. But an official with close knowledge of the case said: “the decision was made for evidentiary reasons,” suggesting there were questions over the identification of those involved in the May 16, 2017 melee.
Nineteen members of Erdogan’s security detail were indicted over the daylight attack in front of the Turkish ambassador’s residence, which took place while Erdogan was in Washington to meet President Donald J. Trump.
Two of them were U.S. citizens, who pleaded guilty in December to assault charges. Two were Canadians, who were charged but have not been arrested. Fifteen others were Turkish citizens who were a part of Erdogan’s entourage and took part in the attack, which saw peaceful protesters kicked and beaten by the Turkish security team. Several were sent to hospital for serious injuries.
Much of the assault was filmed by bystanders, and police identified the suspects in part by the video recordings.
In case you forgot, here’s what happened when bodyguards started beating people who had the audacity to use their First Amendment rights to protest against Erdogan in DC: https://t.co/Q4ZTYTiyJD
— Sarah McLaughlin (@sarahemclaugh) March 22, 2018
The indictments raised the temperature of already heated relations between the two countries, with Mr. Erdogan calling the case a “scandalous demonstration of how American justice works.” The U.S. meanwhile froze a deal to sell $1.2 million of small arms to the Turkish president’s bodyguard unit.
According to the Washington court, charges were dropped against eleven of the 15 Turkish bodyguards, while four others remain under indictment.
The first batch of dismissed cases came on the eve of the visit to Washington of Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim last November. The second batch took place a day before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met Erdogan in Ankara.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday that the department “had no role in the decision to drop those charges.”
“That was entirely coming out of the Department of Justice,” she said, adding that Mr. Tillerson knew of the decision before he met Mr. Erdogan, but “the timing was coincidental.”