File photo of protesters who were arrested at Bath Iron Works' christening of the stealth destroyer USS Zumwalt in 2016. On Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, a judge dismissed charges against nine activists were arrested in April 2017 after protesting outside the christening of the future USS Thomas Hudner at BIW.

Superior Court Justice Daniel Billings on Thursday dismissed all criminal trespass charges against nine anti-war activists following a protest outside Bath Iron Works last summer, just as their trial got underway at the Sagadahoc County Courthouse.

Billings granted the defendants’ motion for judgment of acquittal, “despite our efforts to bring this case to the jury and to let the jury decide,” Sagadahoc County District Attorney Jonathan Liberman confirmed Thursday night.

[War and peace on the Maine coast: Trial of shipyard protesters revives Vietnam-era conflicts]

Bath Police Lt. Robert Savary wrote in an email to the Bangor Daily News that police are still unclear about Billings’ reasons and are discussing the case with Liberman and his staff.

Former defendant Lisa Savage also wrote in an email that Billings said in court that “the Bath Police Department was outsourced to BIW. That is not how it is supposed to work. The city has to consider the bigger picture. … The police do not have unfettered discretion.”

Billings could not be reached for comment Thursday night, and Liberman and Savary both said they were not in the courtroom at the time and could not confirm the comment.

The defendants, who named themselves the “Aegis 9,” on Thursday portrayed the dismissal of the charges as a victory for the First Amendment.

On April 1, 2017, the nine activists gathered outside the christening of the future USS Thomas Hudner at Bath Iron Works.

They were charged with criminal trespassing, a Class E crime, after they attempted to attend the event at 10 a.m., according to a news release issued by Bath police. BIW security stopped the protesters, some of whom carried signs, at the gate where attendees entered the grounds.

Those arrested were Bob Dale of Brunswick, a former Navy pilot and member of Veterans of Peace; Gagnon, a member of VFP, Global Network Against Nuclear Power & Weapons in Space; Natasha Mayers of Whitefield, an artist; Jason Rawn of Lincolnville, a war tax resister; Mark Roman of Solon, a woodworker, Savage of Solon, a teacher; Jessica Stewart of Bass Harbor, a Catholic Worker activist; Mike Tork of Cape Cod, a Navy Vietnam veteran and member of Veterans of Peace; and Russell Wray of Hancock, an artist.

A year earlier, in June 2016, 12 activists, many of them members of Veterans for Peace, were arrested for a similar protest at the christening of the USS Michael Monsoor. Gagnon said at the time that the group “shut the whole street down.”

Police had said that if they continued to block pedestrian and vehicular traffic in front of BIW’s South Gate, and remained despite a lawful order to leave, they would be arrested.

Ten of the 12 pleaded not guilty, and two made plea agreements. A jury convicted the 10 of misdemeanors, and Billings sentenced them to community service.

In his email Thursday, Liberman continued, “I am very familiar with the facts of this case, and in my opinion, Bath PD did absolutely nothing wrong or illegal in their handling of this matter, and I also believe that their arrests were 100 percent lawful. …The people arrested on this occasion were treated fairly and professionally by the police, and I strongly disagree with any statements to the contrary.”

Protesters said they would continue to advocate against military spending and tax breaks for defense contractors.

“I cannot stand by and watch our national treasury depleted building expensive, destructive war machines while climate change threatens the future of human life,” Roman said in a prepared statement.

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