Where is the outrage over activist prosecution?

Dennis A. Etler: Opinion

SC Sentinel:   08/19/2012

Over the years Santa Cruz has seen various protest movements ebb and flow through its streets and back alleys. Many local residents are open-minded and supportive of these protests, though the majority seldom participates. When the Occupy Wall Street movement began to spread throughout the country, it resonated with many who were motivated to act by the vast social and economic inequalities and injustices that have come to characterize our country. At its height, Occupy Santa Cruz attracted hundreds of demonstrators from all works of life, all age groups and a diversity of communities.

The encampment at the Benchlands in San Lorenzo Park adjacent to the county building was a dramatic symbol of popular resistance to the fleecing of America by the 1 percent. It was also a dramatic example of community self-help for homeless people who had and still have no shelter.

After some time, in Santa Cruz as throughout the country, local authorities grew apprehensive and angry at Occupy Santa Cruz. The city and county used permit demands, court injunctions, selective arrests, anti-lodging laws and established a new nighttime curfew zone around the courthouse to thwart the protest. Finally, squads of police moved to disperse several hundred homeless people and destroy their property. Elsewhere Occupiers were hit with pepper spray and mass arrests. Here the court system is being used as a club wielded against longtime activists.

Last year at the height of the Occupy protests nationwide, an autonomous group in Santa Cruz occupied a vacant bank building at 75 River St. leased by Wells Fargo. Many local residents, including mainstream and independent media, community leaders and concerned citizens, as well as young, free-spirited revelers, entered the building to support and observe. After 72 hours and a police request that the building be vacated, the protesters left with minimal property damage, no personal injuries, no citations and no arrests.

I was therefore flabbergasted when months later District Attorney Bob Lee initiated criminal proceedings against 11 community activists. He charged then with felony conspiracy to vandalize and trespass. The only evidence as revealed by six preliminary hearings was that they were in the building with dozens if not hundreds of others. A Sentinel reporter, a city councilwoman, and several other more conservative reporters, known to the police with 300 others also in the building were ignored.

Selectively targeting protesters months later for nonviolent protest is a terrifying new tactic. Lee claims he just wants the 11 to pay $25,000 in compensation to Wells Fargo for undocumented graffiti. Yet the cost of courts, bailiffs, deputy DAs, public defenders, etc. runs to many times this amount. This month Lee is asking for more prosecution money.

The Santa Cruz 11 do not deserve to be prosecuted. Local authorities are attempting to bully and intimidate those who have the temerity to challenge a system which dehumanizes and oppresses the dispossessed and most disadvantaged amongst us. Meanwhile the real felons — the banks — continue their abusive foreclosure practices with obscene government handouts. Those who expose them are on a six-month courtroom treadmill and face a possible seven years in prison, while real crimes go unprosecuted.

I ask District Attorney Lee, have you no shame? And I ask the people of Santa Cruz, where is the outrage?

Dennis A. Etler, an instructor in the Cabrillo College anthropology department, lives in Boulder Creek.

Judge indicates he may dismiss charges in 75 River case due to procedural issues: Judge has strong words for prosecutor

Jessica M. Pasko – Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted:   08/17/2012

SANTA CRUZ – A judge had strong words Friday for the prosecutor handling the case of the takeover of a vacant bank, telling her he was unhappy with the way the case has been handled, saying he could dismiss it.

Seven people still face charges in connection with the nearly three-day occupation of the former Wells Fargo building located at 75 River St. They’re charged with felony conspiracy, vandalism and misdemeanor trespass. The charges stem from an incident in which a group claiming to be acting “anonymously and autonomously but in solidarity with Occupy Santa Cruz” entered the bank building in late November and remained there for nearly 72 hours.

Friday, defense attorneys told Judge Paul Burdick they haven’t received some of the documents and videos they have requested from the District Attorney’s Office despite numerous attempts.

Alexis Briggs, who represents Cameron Laurendeau, said she has not received specific video she requested from prosecutor Rebekah Young. The video in question refers to footage apparently used by police to confirm who was where and when during the occupation of 75 River St.

Defense attorneys for Becky Johnson, Robert Norse, Gabriella Ripleyphipps, Franklin Alcantara, Desiree Foster and Brent Adams expressed similar frustration.

“If there are videotapes depicting the crimes taken by police and they haven’t been provided (to the defense,) it’s inexcusable,” Burdick said, growing increasingly exasperated. “We’re now eight months into this case. I’m inclined to dismiss it.”

Young said she had duplicated as many of the DVDs as she could but some were unable to be copied due to technological issues. Her office set up a YouTube channel for the raw footage, but some of the defense attorneys argued that the Internet wasn’t an appropriate way to hand over discovery.

Burdick said that at this point, it’s unlikely the court will proceed with a preliminary hearing, which was scheduled for Monday. Instead, he ordered an order to show cause hearing for Monday, in which the prosecution will have to show why all charges shouldn’t be dismissed because of failure to provide discovery.

“I’m really unhappy about this Ms. Young,” Burdick said. “It’s inexcusable.”

He ordered Young to compile an inventory of what evidence – and when – has been provided to the defense attorneys as well as the methodology of doing so.

Late Friday afternoon Young said she was working to upload all of the footage onto external hard drives for the defense attorneys.

Charges against four of the 11 people originally charged in the case – Bradley Allen, Alex Darocy, Grant Wilson and Edward Rector – previously were dismissed by Burdick.

Motion to disqualify judge denied in Santa Cruz bank takeover case

By Jessica M. Pasko
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 07/05/2012

SANTA CRUZ – A judge has denied a prosecutor’s motion for a new judge in the case of the takeover of a former Wells Fargo bank last year.

Assistant District Attorney Rebekah Young had sought to disqualify Judge Paul Burdick from presiding over the cases of the five defendants whose preliminary hearings have not yet taken place. Burdick previously dismissed the charges against six of the 11 people initially charged in connection with the nearly-three-day occupation of 75 River St., a vacant former bank in downtown Santa Cruz.

Defense attorneys for Gabriella Ripleyphipps, Becky Johnson, Robert Norse, Brent Adams and Desiree Foster had objected to the motion to disqualify Burdick, calling it “untimely.”

Burdick sided with the defense and will remain the presiding judge for the preliminary hearing, which is set for Aug. 20. All five face felony counts of conspiracy and vandalism, as well as misdemeanor trespassing.

Those charges were dismissed earlier this year against Bradley Allen, Alex Darocy, Edward Rector, Grant Wilson, Franklin Alcantara and Cameron Laurendeau. Young later re-filed the charges against Laurendeau and Alcantara, and their new preliminary hearing will be heard by Judge Ariadne Symons later this month.

A group declaring themselves to be “acting anonymously and autonomously but in solidarity with Occupy Santa Cruz” took over the building late last year with the announced intentions of turning it into a community center in protest of the banks’ role in the national economic downfall. Amid numerous police negotiations, the group left the building peacefully after close to 72 hours.

The People vs. the 99 Percent

Judge releases four accused in bank occupation, independent media still on trial

William Glad

City on a Hill Press: May 3, 2012

Bradley Allen, a photojournalist for Indybay, is one of the five journalists on trial following the Wells Fargo building occupation. Photo by Nallely Ruiz

Eleven people received arrest warrants in February for their alleged involvement in an occupation of an empty Wells Fargo building on River Street last fall.

On April 25, Judge Paul Burdick ruled there was not enough evidence to bring four of the arrested to trial. But the Santa Cruz District Attorney’s office — referred to as “the People” in court — is still prosecuting the remaining seven.

Five of those on trial are journalists, while the other two are media spokespeople for the occupation. The charges they face include felony conspiracy to vandalize and vandalism charges, as well as two misdemeanor counts of trespassing.

If the remaining defendants go to trial, their cases could set a precedent in local law enforcement that might make it difficult for future unsanctioned events like Occupy Santa Cruz to be documented by alternative news outlets.

“People are really being put under a blanket of fear, and it becomes difficult to report clearly what actually happened,” said Robert Norse, a longtime Santa Cruz activist and one of the independent journalists facing charges.

On Nov. 30 of last year, a group in solidarity with Occupy Santa Cruz took over the vacant Wells Fargo building at 75 River Street with the intent to repurpose the building into a community center. Police posted signs on Dec. 2 warning the protesters they were trespassing and had to leave. On Dec. 3, the protesters were gone.

The accused journalists work for alternative news sources such as Indybay and Free Radio Santa Cruz and argue that they were covering the occupation as a newsworthy event.

The event was covered by other larger local news sources — such as the Santa Cruz Sentinel — but no reporters from these publications face charges.

The DA is primarily relying on police testimony and the arrested photojournalists’ work to demonstrate that the accused entered and remained in the building illegally.

Prosecuting attorney Rebekah Young will have to prove that the defendants continuously occupied the building even after being told by police officers that they were breaking the law and to disperse. In addition, the prosecution has yet to offer substantial evidence of premeditation, crucial to charging an individual with conspiracy.

“It just wasn’t a situation where people were thinking they were really even doing anything wrong. It’s very possible that a lot of people showed up and had no idea what that building was,” said Bradley Allen, an Indybay photojournalist and one of the accused.

Allen said he is not a part of Occupy Santa Cruz, was covering the event in a professional context as he has covered similar events, and did not see or hear any announcements that people were trespassing.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Society of Professional Journalists, National Press Photographers Association and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press have all issued statements condemning Allen’s prosecution.

Police nationwide have arrested more than 75 journalists covering Occupy-related protests, but most of the cases have been dropped.

“There’s no first amendment exception to criminal acts, and yet virtually no judge that’s had this kind of issue come up in front of him has allowed a prosecution to continue,” said Ben Rice, Allen’s attorney. “They have time and time again thrown out cases against journalists who have been snapped up by law enforcement in the context of covering demonstrations.”

The prosecution has had “chilling” effects on involved individuals and the community, both Allen and Norse said. In addition to imposing great financial expense on both the Santa Cruz city government and those being prosecuted, courtroom proceedings have jeopardized defendants’ jobs, homes and personal relationships.

Despite this challenge for activists and independent journalists nationwide, in the future, Allen said, ““¡Ni un paso atrás! Not one step back, but getting more people to take steps forward, to say that this is wrong and to demand the right to cover the news.”

A rally is planned for May 4 at 1 p.m. at the Santa Cruz courthouse to support those arrested.

Judge still mulling charges against 4 accused in takeover of former bank


Santa Cruz Sentinel:   04/23/2012

SANTA CRUZ – A judge declined Monday to issue an immediate ruling in the case of four people charged in connection with the takeover of a former bank last year to allow more time to research the legal issues involved.

“At first blush, I think the people may have some problems with these four defendants,” Judge Paul Burdick said, after hearing the prosecution’s evidence in a preliminary hearing Monday.

Cameron Laurendau, Franklin Alcantara, Edward Rector and Grant Wilson are among the 11 people charged after the takeover of the former Wells Fargo Bank at 75 River St. in late November and early December. They face felony charges of conspiracy and vandalism along with two misdemeanor counts of trespassing.

Detective David Guntner of the Santa Cruz Police Department, who led the investigation into the nearly 72-hour takeover, testified about the evidence, primarily photographs, used to identify those charged.

“Who vandalized the bank?” Alcantara’s attorney, Jesse Ruben, asked.

“I don’t know,” replied Guntner, who said he viewed video of Alcantara entering and exiting the bank, but he didn’t know how long he remained inside.

Those involved in the bank takeover left peacefully after nearly 72 hours of negotiations with police.

Burdick said the case posed a number of legal issues, including a lack of evidence proving the four defendants entered the building after being requested to leave. He ordered all four defendants, their attorneys and prosecutor Rebekah Young back to court Wednesday, when he’s expected to issue a ruling on whether to hold the four to the charges.

Supporters of the so-called Santa Cruz Eleven have said the District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the constitutional right to protest. In a letter published in the Sentinel earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Santa Cruz County chapter called for the charges to be dismissed.

Last month, a judge dismissed the vandalism charge against two other defendants, Alex Darocy and Bradley Allen, but held them to charges of felony conspiracy and misdemeanor trespassing. The two, whose attorneys say they were at 75 River St. acting as journalists, are scheduled for trial next month. A preliminary hearing for the other five defendants is still pending.

Attorneys for two accused in 75 River St. takeover say their clients were there as journalists

Santa Cruz Sentinel:   03/09/2012

SANTA CRUZ – Two men facing charges in connection with the takeover of a former bank are slated for a preliminary hearing Tuesday. Their attorneys say the men are photojournalists and were working in that capacity when the alleged violations took place.

Alex Darocy, Bradley Stuart Allen and nine other people are charged with two felony counts of vandalism and conspiracy, and two misdemeanor counts of trespassing. The charges stem from the takeover of the building at 75 River St. late last year. In that incident, a group claiming to be acting “anonymously and autonomously” but in solidarity with Occupy Santa Cruz remained in the building for nearly three days before leaving peacefully.

Darocy and Allen, who pleaded not guilty to the charges last month, are photojournalists who have done work for a number of outlets, including Santa Cruz Indymedia, according to defense attorneys George Gigarjian and Ben Rice.

Allen has worked as a freelance photojournalist covering social issues for more than a decade, Rice said. His attendance of Occupy protests in Santa Cruz were in the capacity of a photojournalist, with the sole purpose of documenting events through his photography, he said.

Likewise, Girgarjian says his client was documenting a news event.

“Alex is an established photojournalist and we’re in the position that he was there in that capacity,” Gigarjian said of the charges.

Rice has reached out to the National Press Photographers Association, of which Allen is a member.

Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the organization, said he has been dealing with similar situations around the country as dozens of journalists have been swept up in mass arrests at protests.

“I think the normal tension between the police and the press has been exacerbated by the Occupy movement,” he said, adding that the organization is hoping the court will dismiss these charges.

Gigarjian and Rice opted to split off their defendants from the nine other defendants for the purpose of the preliminary hearing. The rest of the defendants are scheduled to begin their hearing in April.

Four charged with taking over River Street building make first court appearance

Cathy KellySanta Cruz Sentinel:   02/21/2012

SANTA CRUZ – Four men appeared in court Tuesday to face charges stemming from the takeover late last year of a vacant River Street bank building – including longtime homeless rights activist Robert Norse, who came to court dressed in a blue bath robe with a teddy bear affixed to his waist between the robe and its sash.

Grant Garioch Wilson, Franklin Cruz Alcantara and Bradley Stuart Allen pleaded not guilty to two felony charges of vandalism and conspiracy and two misdemeanor trespassing charges.

The arraignment for Norse, named in court documents as Robert Norris Kahn, was continued to Feb. 29 after he asked Judge Ariadne Symons for time to hire an attorney.

Norse also asked the judge about her instructions to “cooperate” with police in the meantime, saying he operates a “cop watch” program that could be construed as some type of interference with police.

“That doesn’t sound like a problem,” Symons assured him.

The other three men were appointed attorneys and Symons ordered them back for a March 5 preliminary hearing.

Attorney Art Dudley, who represents Alcantara, also asked for clarification of what “cooperation” with police entailed.

The judge said he was to obey police orders and not run from them or lie to them.

Allen’s attorney, Ben Rice, asked for a hearing to reconsider a condition set by Symons that Allen stay away from the River Street building. The hearing was scheduled for Friday.

Outside court, Rice said his client works as a photojournalist, but that he could not further discuss the grounds for challenging the order.

The men are among 11 charged in connection with a nearly three-day occupation of the building.

The others are Cameron Stephens Laurendeau, Becky Johnson, Brent Elliott Adams, Desiree Christine Foster, Edward Rector, Gabriella Ripley-Phipps and Alex Darocy.

The District Attorney’s Office announced the charges Feb. 8, after weeks of investigating who was involved in occupying the former Coast Commercial Bank. The building is owned Barry Swenson Builders, records show.

On Nov. 30, a group describing itself as an “anonymous, autonomous group acting in solidarity with Occupy Santa Cruz” burst into 75 River St. declaring they would turn into a community center. The group left the building peacefully after about 72 hours, marked by numerous negotiations with police, including an initial confrontation with officers in riot gear.

In announcing the charges, District Attorney Bob Lee said his office “remains committed to enforcing the law, protecting private and public property and holding people accountable for the destruction and illegal occupation of property.”

In an editorial submission in the Sentinel Sunday, Norse said the activists at the vacant bank had a posted no vandalism policy. He stated that those charged are “largely if not entirely alternative media journalists who regularly and sympathetically report police repression; including several bloggers, two photojournalists, a radio broadcaster, and several spokespeople.” (NOTE: The greater portion of this is missing from the online article, starting from the third word in the second sentence!…Media tampering, perhaps?)

A day after DA’s Office announces charges, one arraigned in takeover of former bank building

JESSICA M. PASKO – Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted:   02/09/2012

SANTA CRUZ – One of the 11 people charged in connection with the takeover of a vacant bank building last year was in court Thursday morning for arraignment on charges of trespassing, conspiracy and vandalism.

Becky Johnson appeared in shackles and red jail clothes in front of Judge Ariadne Symons, and pleaded not guilty to the charges. Symons agreed to grant attorney Ed Frey’s request that Johnson be released on her own recognizance and ordered her to return to court March 2 to confirm a preliminary hearing date.

Johnson is among those named in the criminal complaint announced Wednesday by District Attorney Bob Lee in connection with the three-day takeover of a former bank at 75 River St. A group declaring themselves to be

A man flashes the victory and peace sign to fellow Occupy protesters atop the roof of the former home of Coast Commercial Bank on River Street. (Shmuel Thaler/Sentinel)

acting “anonymously, autonomously in solidarity with Occupy Santa Cruz” illegally entered the building on or about Nov. 30 and remained there for nearly three days, eventually leaving without incident after numerous police negotiations.Under the terms of Johnson’s release, she was ordered to stay away from 75 River St. and cooperate with all law enforcement.

Another defendant named in the complaint is longtime Santa Cruz activist and demonstrator Robert Norse, who has frequently clashed with police and city officials. According to court records, Norse, referred to in court documents as Robert Norse Kahn, 64, was served a warrant Wednesday charging him with trespassing, felony conspiracy and vandalism. In a signed order, he was released on his own recognizance and agreed to appear in court on Feb. 21.

Those also named in the complaint are Brent Elliott Adams, Franklin Cruz Alacantara, Bradley Stuart Allen, Desiree Christine Foster, Cameron Laurendau, Edward Rector, Gabriella Ripley-Phipps, Grant Garioch Wilson and Alex Darocy.

Mike Rowe, chief of the investigations department at the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Office, said he did not know how many of the warrants had been served as of

Occupy Santa Cruz members took over a vacant building on Water Street on Wednesday afternoon. (Shmuel Thaler/Sentinel)

Thursday afternoon.According to jail records, Foster, 19, was booked into County Jail Thursday morning in lieu of $5,000 bail. Darocy was arrested on the charges just before noon Wednesday, according to the Sheriff’s Office, but jail records showed he was not in custody Thursday. The Sheriff’s Office did not have record of arrests of any of the other defendants as of Thursday afternoon.