After a final motion to dismiss their charges was denied on March 11, the remaining four members of the Santa Cruz 11 will face trial on May 13.
The development comes after almost two years of preliminary hearings for the original 11, during which seven eventually had their charges dropped by Judge Paul Burdick. The remaining four defendants’ motion to have their charges dismissed was based on the argument that the prosecution’s evidence had been gathered in bad faith.
The Santa Cruz 11 are a group of activists and journalists who were present at the occupation of a vacant Wells Fargo bank on River Street in fall of 2011. Scores of people, many of them associated with Occupy Santa Cruz, occupied the bank for three days to protest what they described as fraudulent foreclosure practices. They had intended to turn it into a community center.
Several months later 11 of the protestors, identified in photos and video posted online, were charged with felony conspiracy, felony vandalism and two separate counts of misdemeanor trespass for the $30,000 in damages that Wells Fargo said resulted from the occupation.
Monday’s decision means that the remaining four — Gabriella Ripley-Phipps, Cameron Laurendau, Brent Adams and Angel Alcantara — will stand trial before a public jury on May 13.
“[Judge Timothy Volkman] did tons of research and read over all of the evidence and case documents,” Adams said, “but in the end he did not dismiss our charges.”
Several dozen supporters of the Santa Cruz 11 had gathered in the courtroom, hoping the charges would be dropped. Supporters of the 11 said they believe the case was brought more for political reasons than simple enforcement of the law.
“The case is primarily an attack on the Occupy Movement,” said Robert Norse, local journalist and advocate for the homeless, and a previous defendant in the case. “There’s a lack of evidence, especially concerning Gabriella.”
One of the remaining defendants, Gabriella Ripley-Phipps, was attempting to help the police restore order during the occupation when video evidence placed her at the scene, Norse said.
“We have eye-witness testimony,” said assistant District Attorney Rebekah Young. “There is police footage placing these four people at the scene.”
The defense maintains that Ripley-Phipps’ mere presence at the scene is not sufficient to justify the prosecution’s legal argument — that aiding and abetting the occupation was tantamount to aiding and abetting the vandalism that followed.
Supporters of the remaining four defendants said they believe there is still hope despite the seriousness of the charges.
“A charge of vandalism as a ‘natural or probable’ result of being present at the scene [as the prosecution argues] is a very complex claim” and one that will be difficult to prove in court, said former research lawyer Steve Pleich, who was in attendance at the motion.
Pleich and the defendants said they believe they have a strong case in spite of the eye-witness testimony.
“They never did much of an investigation,” Adams said. “All of the people being charged are simply known activists. As for the people wearing masks at the scene? They’re long gone.”
A status hearing has been set for April when lawyers will confirm that they are ready to proceed with May’s trial.