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Occupy Philadelphia protesters acquitted of charges following eviction

The court maintained the group was exercising its First Amendment rights.

All 31 people arrested in the hours following Occupy Philadelphia's eviction from Dilworth Plaza have been acquitted.

The protesters were arrested early on Dec. 1, the 56th day of the Occupy encampment outside City Hall. Police chased the crowd from City Hall, which prompted a three-hour march that ended with about 50 arrests on 15th Street just south of Spring Garden.

The defendants were charged with failure to disperse, criminal conspiracy and obstructing the highway. Municipal Judge Karen Simmons granted the defense motion for acquittal, ruling prosecutors did not prove the protesters engaged in disorderly conduct or disobeyed police orders to disperse.

Simmons' decision followed testimony from Capt. William Fisher, former head of the police Civil Affairs Unit, and video of the raid and ensuing march. Fisher testified that he ordered protesters to move to the sidewalk, but was instructed to make arrests.

Prosecutors said they were disappointed with the decision. Meanwhile, the defendants and dozens of supporters who filled the courtroom cheered the ruling.

"It's refreshing to see a victory for the First Amendment in the courts [regarding] Occupy," said Gwen Snyder, a member of Occupy's legal committee. "I think it vindicates a lot of what we've been saying before that our conduct was peaceful [based] on free speech, not violence."

Charges against two other protesters were withdrawn.