Five of “Highway 17 Six” Students Sentenced to 30 Days in Jail, Eligible for House Arrest

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Five of the six UC Santa Cruz students who blocked Highway 17 as part of the “96 Hours of Action” in March were each sentenced to 30 days in jail, along with three years of informal court probation on Monday. Judge Denine J. Guy told the students in court that they are eligible for the Custody Alternative Program, which replaces time served in jail while allowing the defendants to work and continue community service.

The defendant who wasn’t sentenced, Rosa Petterson, will present her testimonial to Guy at a later date when her attorney returns to the country.

After the sentencing hearing, public defender Alyssa Thompson, who represents one of the student protestors Alexander Pearce, said that the students will have to choose between jail or house arrest through ankle monitoring. She said jails have policies about which crimes can be served through work release, and resisting arrest does not fall under that category.

During the sentencing hearing, Thompson and the other four students’ attorneys, advocated for restorative justice through community service instead of jail time. The six students are also still undergoing appeals with the university, and are currently suspended until fall 2016.

“I’m disappointed with the outcome,” Thompson said. “I think that the indicated sentence [of 30 days in jail] was an appropriate response to the immediate outrage that the papers like the Sentinel were capturing, but since then I think a lot of the community has come forward to say that outrage does not represent some of their true feelings. I hoped today that the judge would see not only the community response, but also the excellent characters that these six individuals have, and take that into account.”

In court on Monday, the sentencing hearing began with prosecuting attorney Crystal Andersen facilitating testimonials from UCSC PD Lieutenant Glenn Harper and Las Animas Concrete business owner Scott French.

Harper answered questions regarding his experience with “protest device extraction,” and outlined how UC police officers, in conjunction with tools and resources from the California Highway Patrol, Caltrans and the Santa Cruz Police and Fire departments, responded to the protest on March 3.

French described how his small business, which delivers ready-mixed concrete, lost up to $10,000 on March 3 because of the stopped traffic. He said drivers have about 90 minutes to get the concrete out of the truck before it becomes unusable. However, French isn’t claiming personal restitution, or payment, from the students.

The prosecution rested after the two testimonials, which was followed by statements read from three of the students — Alexander Pearce, Sophia Dimatteo and Lori Nixon — along with Pearce’s mother, Dimatteo’s mother, and two of the students’ attorneys. The students who spoke apologized for inconveniences resulting from their demonstration and addressed frustrations from the community, while addressed the need for attention on an increasing decline in public education’s accessibility and affordability.

“I believe in the cause I was protesting, but I realized it had negative effects and I’m sorry,” Dimatteo said to the judge.

Pearce and his mother spoke toward their family’s personal struggle to afford a college education for three children as a middle-class household. He called jail a “waste of resources,” and called for 288 hours of community service — the exact calculation for the number of hours he would spend in jail with days already served taken into account.

In her argument, Thompson maintained that “the punishment needs to fit the crime,” and 30 days in jail is inconsistent with a peaceful protest. She said the students are “willing to repay consequences by serving the community.”

However in prosecuting attorney Andersen’s last address to Judge Guy, she said the students “alienated and victimized a community who would have supported their message.” The prosecutor argued that the student’s statements were at first apologies, but followed by justifications.

She said the demonstration was “at the wrong time, in the wrong place and in the wrong manner,” and that the community was ultimately the victim. Premeditation and deliberation were aggravating factors that Andersen argued should set the sentencing at 90 to 100 days in jail.

“We wanted a little bit more time than what [Guy] was asking for, but ultimately she did reflect on all of the information that was submitted to her, she read everything very thoroughly, and I think it was appropriate in this case,” Andersen said after the hearing.

The restitution hearing will begin Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. at the Santa Cruz Courthouse. Guy has set a maximum of $40,000 in restitution, and public officials will take the stand as Guy determines how much money the defendants are collectively responsible for.