U.S. dismisses charges against four in Turkish embassy brawl

U.S. judges have dismissed charges against four of 19 defendants charged with attacking protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington during a visit by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia told Ahval.

The incident in May and the charges brought against the president’s security detail and other supporters for attacking the pro-Kurdish demonstrators is just one of the growing list of issues that have soured relations between Turkey and the United States, most recently the President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Court documents said nine protesters were injured in brawls when “Erdoğan supporters and Turkish security personnel” attacked demonstrators in Washington's Sheridan Circle on May 16. Around a dozen demonstrators had gathered outside the residency chanting anti-Erdoğan and pro-Kurdish slogans as the Turkish president arrived after meeting U.S. President Donald Trump.

Two Turkish-American Erdoğan supporters, Sinan Narin of Virginia and Eyüp Yıldırım of New Jersey, pleaded guilty on Thursday to one count each of assault with significant bodily injury as part of a plea bargain. Sentencing is scheduled for March 15, 2018.

The agreed prison sentence is one year and one day, which, with time off for good behaviour, translates to no more than 10-and-a-half months in jail. The defendants have already served six months in pre-trial detention, and will receive credit for time served, which brings the remaining time to be served to four-and-a-half months.

The other 17 of those originally charged are currently outside U.S. jurisdiction. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office told Ahval it had moved to dismiss charges against four of the individuals charged, namely Yusuf Ayar, Feride Kayasan, Hamza Yurteri, and Gökhan Yıldırım.

“The basis of the dismissals is that the evidence was false or non existent,” said Washington attorney Gunay Evinch who is following the cases closely. “The five Turkish security detail were not present at the Sheridan Circle brawl."

Even though the U.S. Attorney's Office information officer William Miller said charges were dropped against four of the 19 originally charged, Evinch contended that charges were dropped against five. The dismissal of charges has been kept relatively quiet, and according to sources with knowledge of the court proceedings, it was done quickly with a nod of the head by the U.S. attorney and a judge at a hearing in November.

How the federal grand jury of 23 jurors managed to indict these security officers in the first place, however, is unknown. Evinch said it showed a politicisation of the prosecutorial process. “Shoot now, ask questions later,” he described the process.

"According to the U.S. Supreme Court, a grand jury is supposed to determine whether there is adequate evidence to bring a criminal charge against a suspect. The grand jury is supposed to protect the people from the prosecutor," Evinch said. "The system completely failed here. Law became the child of politics.

A total of 21 counts of assault and hate crimes based on the victims’ ethnicity were levelled against the group by Washington DC U.S. attorney Channing Phillips.

Erdoğan said in a televised address on Sept. 1 the case was a “scandalous demonstration of how American justice works."

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Aug. 30 condemning the U.S. indictment, saying, “those names have not even gone to U.S., ever”.

The dismissal of charges against four or five of those named, at least partially, confirms the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s assertion.