Santa Cruz Eleven Down to Four

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    Illustration by Maren Slobody.

    In a preliminary hearing on Jan. 7, Santa Cruz County judge Paul Burdick dismissed charges against three of the remaining seven defendants implicated in the occupation of a vacant bank last winter.

    Judge Burdick also fined the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s (DA) office $500 for the failure of prosecutor Rebekah Young to turn over evidence to the defense in a timely manner. Judge Burdick said this is the first time he’s ever had to impose such a fine.

    Defense attorneys have complained of repeated delays throughout the trial’s yearlong proceedings. One attorney, Alexis Briggs, asked for steeper penalties in light of hardships imposed on the defendants by the charges. During the proceedings several of the defendants were unable to visit family members who passed away in other states, one was prevented from renewing her California teaching credential and another attempted suicide shortly after the charges were levied.

    Judge Burdick denied the request.

    Before Tuesday’s hearing the seven defendants faced charges of felony conspiracy, felony vandalism and two separate counts of misdemeanor trespass for their allegedrole in the three-day-long occupation of a vacant Wells Fargo building at 75 River Street on Nov. 30, 2011.

    Judge Burdick dismissed one count of misdemeanor vandalism charges as well as the felony conspiracy charge against all seven defendants, citing a lack of evidence of premeditation in the occupation. Charges were then dropped entirely against Robert Norse, Becky Johnson and Desiree Foster. Judge Burdick said the evidence placing those three at the scene after police told them to leave was inconclusive.

    “It’s a combination of feeling relieved and sort of happy, but at the same time feeling guilty,” Norse said, “because there are still four other people continuing to suffer through this shit.”

    Remaining defendants Gabriella Ripley-Phipps, Brent Adams, Franklin “Angel” Alcantara and Cameron Laurendeau had their arraignment set for Jan. 22.

    Prosecutor Young said the cases are justified and that the DA’s office will press on with them.

    “The police and DA’s office are dedicated to making this community as safe as it can be for everyone who lives here,” Young said. “The commitment shown in this case demonstrates our commitment to this community.”

    The DA’s office will still have the ability to resubmit charges against the three defendants who were cleared on Jan. 8. Previously, charges had been dropped against Laurendeau and Alcantara before being re-filed after Young brought new evidence.

    The defense intends to file a motion to dismiss all charges against the remaining four defendants before the arraignment. They are hopeful that the case will not go to trial.

    Eleven people were charged in Feb. 2012 in connection with the occupation of the vacant bank building on River St. Charges were then dropped against two photojournalists and two other defendants last spring while the rest remained pending. The trials gave rise to a grassroots movement whose supporters claim that the defendants were wrongfully accused and merely protesting peacefully — or covering the protest in the case of the photojournalists.

    “Empty buildings are the crime, not protesters,” said Becky Johnson, whose charges were dropped. “Especially when you have homeless people freezing on the streets without shelter. I mean, the Homeless Services Center reported 33 official homeless deaths in 2012 alone.”

    The bank was occupied by dozens of activists, who in a press release described themselves as an “anonymous, autonomous group acting in solidarity with Occupy Santa Cruz” and seeking to turn the vacant building into a community center. After three days and numerous stand-offs with the police, the protesters exited the building peacefully.

    Three months later, the original 11 defendants had charges brought against them after they were identified in recordings of the incident.

    Former defendant Norse said he’s optimistic about the direction the cases have taken since then, but that the damage has already been done.

    “It’s not just a personal kind of suffering, though it certainly is that as well,” Norse said. “But moreover it’s an attempt to politically isolate people. And what’s really depressing is that it works. People are afraid. You don’t see the mass protests that you did a year ago.”

    • Rnorse3

      The D.A., SCPD, and media swooped down on a peaceful protest designed to bring attention to the officially-tolerated (indeed government-funded) bankster frauds of Wells Fargo.   Rather than developing a strategy for reining in the Wells Fargo criminals whose crimes created damages exponentially greater than any vandalism that happened at the vacant bank.There was no evidence presented any time during the last eleven months (at endless court appearances) that any of the defendants (including the for still being held for trial) had anything to do with the vandalism.  Additionally, based on my understanding of the events, I would say that these defendants had nothing to do with the graffiti and damage that occurred.  Ironically the evidence presented by the D.A. shows that several of those charged went to some lenghs at personal risk to encourage a peaceful outcome to the whole situation–successfully.   No good deed goes unpunished, as the saying goes.The legalistic noose by which assistant D.A. Young now tries to hang the remaining four of the Santa Cruz Eleven is an absurd legal theory that defines common sense.  It runs like this.  If  they “trespassed” in the bank at any time, then the “necessary and probably consequence” of that “trespass”  was to “aid and abet” anonymous identified vandals–even if the defendants never knew them or their actions, entered and left before they arrived, etc.Further, Young by no means presented any persuasive evidence that the four even trespassed.  The definition of 602o requires not just that you be seen in the building by a police officer, but that you be told by the owner’s agent to leave and then refuse to do so.   If that’s not proven, Young’s crazy “aiding and abetting”felony vandalism charges (punishable  by three years in prison) get flushed away.  Her only “evidence of vandalism” is the claimt hat the remaining defendants were illegally there and that their mere presence magically  “aided and abetted”.Why would Burdick buy such a farfetched theory?   He said at an earlier Preliminary Hearing he was very upset at the vandalism apparently wanted someone to pay for the damage.   Apparently anyone present will do.  He may also have felt sufficient political pressure that required him to scapegoat someone responsible for the exorbitant charges that Wells Fargo claimed they paid in the clean-up–business given to out-of-county companies when presumably cheaper local business were available.Police couldn’t or didn’t bother to actually document and identify real vandals on the scene and make arrests there–even for trespass.  They could have done this without risk to the officers or the people in the building after the first night.   But without real suspects, Burdick is stuck with the people the police forwarded–who also largely happen to be high-profile activists whose political actions they dislike.  So Burdick holds four for arraignment and trial.After that January 22nd arraignment (for 3 of the 3), there’ll doubtless be a Motion to Dismiss.  A similar motion ended the court nightmare for two earlier defendants (reporters Bradley Allen and Alex Darocy) earlier this year.  The dismissal motion will be heard before another judge.  Before the  community dares to hope, remember that this is a well-oiled, politically-biased judiciary.  don’t count on any sense of justice burrowing its way through D.A. Bob Lee’s year-long and mile-high mound of crap.Young’s claim that she came up with “new evidence”, for example, is another lie (among many she’s told the court).  The testimony of Sgt. Harms was not new, but was available when she screwed up the first Prelminary Hearing against Alcantara and Laurendau by having Detective Gunter contradict himself  on the stand about so simple an issue as what day he was there.  That should have been the end of the case there, along with strong sanctions for her withholding evidence and lying about it to the defense and the court.Instead, Judge Burdick apparently believing it was Be Kind to Incompetent D.A.’s Week let her drag the case on for another nine months–and now for god knows how many months into 2013.  I’ve let myself spend far too much time writing about this phony case.  I can’t seem to help myself.  We must return to the original focus:  justice and equity.  Don’t let the police and prosecution terorize us into finding real and immediate answers to far more important questions.  How do we address survival threats against the homeless community (who face freezing temperatures, shelter for less than 10% of them, and official harassment under the Sleeping and Camping Bans)?How do we end the wellp-financed foreclosure fraud menace of Wells Fargo and its bankster buds?Empty buildings and obscene profits are the crime.  Those who waste time and money harassing the taxpayers are the criminals

    • Rnorse3

      The web page crammed all the comments I made into one long difficult-to-read continuous paragraph

      To read the comments I made in a more accessible form go to  http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/01/10/18729819.php?show_comments=1#18729974 .  The lead story is also well-done and well-photographed.

    • BFEast

      Readers take note that Robert Norris Kahn, the One-percenter trustfund multi-millionaire(that refuses to contribute a single penny to his own crackpot crusades) conveniently left out the fact that he didn’t pay his Attorney Kate Wells, for his Nazi Salute stunt case that he LOST.
      She then lost her house to foreclosure to guess who? Wells Fargo.

      Robert, you really ought to stop exploiting the suffering of the bottom rungs of society for your personal empowerment.