Prosecutors’ use of civil disorder charges against people arrested during protests has been criticized as a warping of federal authority in an attempt to satisfy President Trump’s goal of forcefully clamping down on the demonstrations. The Constitution, critics of the practice say, limits the federal government’s role in cases that are typically handled by state authorities.
Without commenting on the specifics of the Rochester case, Ilya Somin, a professor of law at George Mason University, said that, generally speaking, “it should be left to state and local authorities” to prosecute the kind of crimes that have been committed during some of the protests, even if current Supreme Court precedent gives the federal authorities wide latitude.
He added that while individual prosecutors made their own choices about which cases to bring, Mr. Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr have made it clear they want a tough federal response to the protests.
Crossing state lines often provides a justification for filing federal charges, but it was not an issue in the Rochester cases: Mr. Williams-Smothers lives in the city; Mr. Green lives in Dansville, N.Y., about an hour’s drive south.
A spokeswoman for the Monroe County district attorney, Sandra Doorley, said that the federal authorities had consulted with her on the cases against the two men, and that she supported prosecuting them in federal court.
As of Wednesday, around three dozen people had been arrested and charged with various crimes in connection with the Rochester protests, the spokeswoman, Calli Marianetti, said. For now, the district attorney was handling the other cases, she added.
The protests have been fueled not just by the circumstances of Mr. Prude’s death, which came a week after his encounter with the police, but also by the lag of more than five months before those circumstances were made public by his family.