Fulton DA won’t prosecute lawmaker arrested during election law signing

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Fulton County’s district attorney said Wednesday that she won’t prosecute the Democratic lawmaker who was arrested last month after she knocked repeatedly on the door of Gov. Brian Kemp’s state office as he was on live television touting a sweeping new elections law.

District Attorney Fani Willis said she considers the case closed after reviewing the evidence surrounding the March 25 arrest of state Rep. Park Cannon of Atlanta, adding that she will not be presenting the case to a grand jury.

“While some of Rep. Cannon’s colleagues and the police officers involved may have found her behavior annoying, such sentiment does not justify a presentment to a grand jury of the allegations in the arrest warrants or any other felony charges,” Willis said.

Cannon said she did nothing to warrant the two felony charges she faced after she rapped on the door outside the governor’s private second-floor office while he was making remarks touting a Republican-backed law that includes restrictions on voting. She was charged with obstruction of law enforcement and disrupting the General Assembly.

On social media, Cannon applauded the decision shortly after Willis’ announcement: “Doors of injustice are everywhere and we cannot stop knocking.”

A Georgia State Patrol lieutenant said memories of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol were on his mind when he arrested Cannon. He said in a 13-page incident report that he was worried that other protesters would have been “emboldened” to follow her after she refused his requests to stop knocking on Kemp’s door.

“The events of January 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol were in the back of my mind,” he wrote in a report obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Witnesses interviewed by the AJC, however, said there was no attempt to “breach” the doorway.

“Nobody touched that door. We didn’t go anywhere near that door. We followed the police officers who were taking Park into the elevator,” said Tamara Stevens, an activist who was with Cannon and filmed the encounter. “There was no attempt, flat out, to breach the door.”

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As Kemp abruptly cut off his prepared speech, authorities outside his office dragged Cannon out of the building and to the Fulton County Jail, prompting an hours-long vigil attended by U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and other Democratic leaders. In a statement, Warnock said he was “relieved to see reason prevail” in Cannon’s favor.

“But make no mistake: it doesn’t make what happened to her right, and what she went through makes clear why Congress must act urgently to secure voting rights on the federal level,” said Warnock.

Cannon’s arrest has become a symbol of raw emotions surrounding Georgia’s election overhaul, which imposes voter ID requirements, limits drop boxes and gives the Republican-controlled Legislature more control over local elections after Democratic wins in November and January.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

At a press conference last week, Cannon said the charges shouldn’t distract attention away from the new law, which she called “the most comprehensive voter suppression bill in the country.”

The charges also brought new scrutiny of state law that says legislators are “free from arrest during sessions of the General Assembly” except for charges of treason, felonies or breach of the peace.

Despite those provisions, Cannon is the second sitting lawmaker to be arrested in the Capitol during a legislative session in recent years.

In 2018, then-state Sen. Nikema Williams was arrested during a protest urging officials to tally all ballots before declaring Kemp the winner in a close election for governor. The charges were later dropped.

Cannon, meanwhile, suggested through a spokesman that she could file litigation of her own.

“Facts and evidence showed to the world that Rep. Cannon committed no crime and should not have ever been arrested,” said Gerald Griggs, an Atlanta attorney. “We thank the district attorney for her thorough review of the evidence and are weighing our next legal actions.”