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Case Dismissed for 3 Students Who Protested Border Agents

Tim Stellar/Arizona Daily Star via AP, file

Charges were dismissed against three students involved in a protest of U.S. Border Patrol agents at the University of Arizona that was captured on video.

The case was dismissed Friday at the request of prosecutors after they after learned the university will conduct an administrative investigation into the March 19 protest in Tucson, said Amelia Cramer, chief deputy for the Pima County Attorney's Office, noting the students could face punishments if they're found to have violated the university's code of conduct.

The video shows a student standing in a hallway as two Border Patrols agents spoke inside a classroom to a student law-enforcement club, which had invited the agents to speak. The protester repeatedly referred to the Border Patrol as the "murder patrol."

"This is supposed to be a safe space for students, but they allow an extension of the KKK into campus," said the student, who later declined an invitation to join the group inside the classroom.

Other students later joined in the chants of "murder patrol" as the agents walked out of the classroom and were followed to parking garage where they left in an SUV.

The video footage sparked anger among members of the union that represents Border Patrol agents. A few days later, the university announced that two students were being charged with interference with the peaceful conduct of an educational institution for their role in the protest. The third student was later charged.

Supporters say the three students — Denisse Moreno Melchor, Mariel Alexandra Bustamante and Marianna Ariel Coles-Curtis — had free speech rights to protest the agents' presence. They started an online campaign to drop the case and staged demonstrations in Tucson. A protest planned for Monday outside Pima County Consolidated Justice Court, where the three were scheduled to be arraigned, has been called off.

In separate interviews Monday, the three students attributed the dismissal to pressure that their supporters put on authorities, including a flood of phone calls to the county attorney's office.

Bustamante said she believes the charges were a response from pressure that the Border Patrol union put on the university. "It seems like they wanted to make an example of us," Bustamante said.

The Tucson chapter of the Border Patrol union didn't immediately respond to phone calls for comment on Monday.

The three students also said they were concerned about the university's administrative investigation. They were under the impression that Dean of Students Office wasn't going to conduct an investigation.

"What we heard from the dean of students is that they weren't going to investigate us internally," Moreno Melchor said.

Cramer pointed out the misdemeanor charges lodged against the three students had been filed by the University of Arizona Police Department, not prosecutors.

The university's police department declined to comment on the dismissal.

University spokesman Chris Sigurdson said in a statement that the university respects the county attorney's decision to dismiss the case. "The university is moving forward with the dean of students' process review of the incident per our policies," Sigurdson said.

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