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Judge dismisses assault charge against protestor

Ernst Jean Jacques cleared after alleged victim refuses to take stand

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Judge dismisses assault charge against protestor
Ernst Jean Jacques (right) with attorney Shah Erkan

An Essex County prosecutor last week dismissed the case against activist Ernst Jean-Jacques, whom Swampscott Police last year charged with assaulting an 80-year-old Trump supporter after she was seen throwing water in his face during a rally in Swampscott.

The woman, Swampscott resident Linda Greenberg, refused to testify during the Tuesday trial and was also charged with assault in connection with the incident. Yet the prosecutor on the case, Danielle Doherty-Wirwicz, declined to prosecute the case against Greenberg.

Shah Erkan, client coordinator for the law firm that represented Jean-Jacques, said the prosecutor’s decision to drop the case against his client was “too long in the coming” but said it was just and fair.

“Bear in mind, everybody, that the reason for the dismissal for this case was because Linda Greenberg decided that she would protect herself by not testifying in a court of law in front of the public as to her own wrongdoing,” Erkan told a small collection of Jean-Jacques’ supporters who gathered after the Nov. 30 hearing outside the District Court of Southern Essex in Lynn.

The case stemmed from a December 2020 pro-Trump rally that was held in Swampscott, a weekly occurrence at the time. Jean-Jacques and other counterdemonstrators had gathered across from the Trump supporters, separated by a street and a metal barricade in front of the pro-Trump demonstrators.

During the demonstration, Jean-Jacques was dancing in front of the pro-Trump contingent and apparently provoked the ire of Greenberg, who was seen in video footage grabbing a water bottle, then pivoting toward Jean-Jacques.

A separate camera angle shows Jean-Jacques as water hits his face. His arm hangs to his side, palm open before he reaches toward where Greenberg was standing, in what he says was an attempt to grab Greenberg’s water bottle.

In an apparent contradiction of the video evidence, a Swampscott police officer, who was watching a livestream of the demonstration on a social media page maintained by pro-Trump demonstrator Diana Ploss, said in a police report that he saw Jean-Jacques clench and close his fist, then wind up and with an extreme amount of force throw a punch at Greenberg.

In a video recording from the Dec. 12 incident, Greenberg admitted to splashing Jean-Jacques with her water.

“I was drinking my water and he was gyrating in front of me, and I was getting mad, and I did get water on him. I don’t want to lie,” she said.

But when asked whether she was the aggressor, she responded angrily, “Oh, why don’t you f— off … You are not America. You are not America.”

While Jean-Jacques was charged with assault, police did not file charges against Greenberg in connection with the incident.

Following the assault charge, Jean-Jacques was fired from his job at a senior center where he worked with adults with intellectual disabilities.

Jean-Jacques’ attorney, Murat Erkan, filed a motion to have the charges dismissed. During a June 2021 hearing, an Essex County judge dismissed Erkan’s motion. The chair and vice chair of the Swampscott Select Board sent a letter to Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, urging him to drop the charges against Jean-Jacques.

At the time, a spokeswoman for the Essex County District Attorney’s office rejected the select board members’ concerns about the charges.

“Members of the Board of Selectmen are not judges in a courtroom who hear evidence,” she said. “These decisions are made in a courtroom in which the defense attorney is free to raise objections.”

Shah Erkan said Blodgett’s office had little to go on, however.

“In the end, the government’s ill-conceived prosecution fell apart,” he told the gathering outside the Lynn courthouse.

On Dec. 1, Murat Erkan fired off an open letter to Blodgett, asking him to appoint an independent prosecutor for Greenberg’s case. In it, he noted that hours after a clerk magistrate ruled that probable cause supported an assault charge against Greenberg, prosecutor Doherty-Wirwicz asked a judge to dismiss the case against her. When the Judge, Matthew Nestor, declined to do so, Doherty-Wirwicz brought the criminal case against Greenberg before a different judge and filed a dismissal of the charge against her.

“She did so without notice to the victim — Mr. Jean-Jacques — in violation of the Victim’s Bill of Rights, G.L. Ch. 258E, which guarantees his right ‘to confer with the prosecutor … before the filing of a nolle prosequi[.]” Murat Erkan wrote in his letter.

In his letter, Erkan noted several instances in which he said Doherty-Wirwicz acted in a prejudicial manner against Jean-Jacques, including her initial response to his request to have the charges against Jean-Jacques dropped.

“Instead, prosecutor Danielle Doherty-Wirwicz filed a motion seeking to have Mr. Jean-Jacques labeled a danger to the public.” Erkan wrote. “She threatened to seek detention if Mr. Jean-Jacques presented witnesses at the hearing. Ultimately, her motion was denied.”

Erkan also cites Blodgett’s office’s refusal to press charges against Greenberg.

“I was informed that a backlog at the clerk’s office would mean months would pass before that complaint would be considered,” Erkan wrote.

Erkan notes that an independent internal investigator, hired by the Swampscott Police Department, found that probable cause supported charging Greenberg with assault and battery.

“You have the power to appoint an independent prosecutor to determine how the case against Ms. Greenberg should proceed,” Erkan wrote. “Whatever decision that prosecutor then renders will be beyond the reproach and suspicion which otherwise surrounds Ms. Doherty-Wirwicz’ handling of this matter.”