Case Closed – A Certain Kind of Resolution

800_santa-cruz-eleven-3Today three of the the remaining Santa Cruz Eleven defendants agreed to a plea deal with the prosecution, and it is likely the last remaining member of the group will follow suit at his hearing this coming Wednesday, bringing to a close the case that has been slowly moving along since 2011.

In front of Judge Siegel in the Santa Cruz Courthouse today Gabriella Ripley-Phipps, and Brent Adams, as well as Angel Alcantara through his attorney entered pleas of “no contest” to a charge of misdemeanor trespass. They waived time for sentencing and were each sentenced to:

  • pay $1,500 in restitution to Wells Fargo
  • pay $220 in court fines (minus any credits for time served)
  • serve 18 months formal probation – to be reduced to informal probation upon full payment of restitution
  • serve 100 hours of community service with any non-profit/community organization without having to report to/through the Community Options office
  • stay away from 75 River St (unless it officially becomes a Community Resource Center
  • costs associated with probation were waived
  • the felony vandalism charge was dropped

They were not assigned any further court date and were given 5 days to report to the probation office. Angel was given a longer period to report as he was not present in court, having not been on the official court calendar he authorized his lawyer to enter his plea on his behalf.

Financial support is being called for and supporters are planning fundraisers to ease the burden of restitution for the defendants. It is a perpetuation of State and Law based logic to hold these individuals soley (or even jointly) accountable for the arbitrary sum of money imposed on them as restitution. What would it be like to feel that burden as our own as radicals, activists, and community members striving for a different way of living?

The City originally offered a deal of $2000 in restitution, plus fines and 3 years formal probation. After a few hours of negotiating defense attorneys came to Gabriella and Brent with the lowered offer. Defendants discussed with their lawyers, each other and friends and eventually agreed to the terms.

Lots of factors were considered in those discussions. Nobody felt good about giving any money to Wells Fargo. In fact many of us asked each other and ourselves why that money needed to be paid at all. Where will it actually go? Why, after arguing for months for a restitution amount of around $26,000, did the City and Wells Fargo finally decide $6,000 was enough? Does this have anything to do with actual costs incurred in the occupation or is it simply punitive or symbolic?

The impact of trial and the risks involved were also taken into consideration. How would a trial lasting up to 6 weeks impact the community here? The defendants were ready for trial, and understood that could end with them having felonies and a larger restitution and were still ready. How could this end in a way that feels good for everyone? Was that even possible? The costs in energy, attention and funds of the trial were a real consideration. As were the needs of the different co-defendants. It was a lot to consider and it is likely that no one feels whole-heartedly good about the resolution. After all this whole affair was a tool of the State to derail conversations about class, houselessness, inequality, and community power.

Let’s all hold the courage of the defendants in our hearts, and let it spread to all the folks that deal with the courts, cops, dehumanizing laws every day.

It might seem like this case did not have very high stakes, and maybe it didn’t compared to others with decades long potential sentences and hundred of thousands of dollars in fines, and yet the negative impact on real lives has been felt. Many of us have talked about and looked at other struggles for inspiration and opportunities for solidarity. The City of Santa Cruz has been slowly increasing Police presence, increasing surveillance, and implementing stricter laws. The predominantly white and wealthy business/property owning population are raising the cost of rent, and living here. This has left many marginalized people in even more precarious positions. For those of us who see this happening, how do we struggle together to live in right relationship with each other and our dreams? One thing is to honor everyone who is trying.

The case of the Santa Cruz Eleven stemmed from an occupation of a downtown bank building that was given the dream and intention of becoming a real asset to the community. The attempt to turn an unused Wells Fargo property into a community center touches on the kind of change that might actually have rippling impacts in our lives. This is the spirit underneath the struggle in this case, and the power we walk with into our next projects. brent on bench with folks court 7.14 circle after court in courthouse 7.14

Photos from court courtesy of Alex Darocy from https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2015/07/14/18774900.php

Legal Battles Drag On

Legal Battles Drag On

Tuesday, 30 April 2013 13:33 Jessica M. Pasko

More than a year after the 75 River St. occupation, four defendants remain embroiled in ongoing case 

More than a year and a half since a group occupied the former Wells Fargo building on River Street in an act of protest, felony charges linger on for four of the original defendants and a trial may be imminent.

Gabriella Ripley-Phipps, Brent Adams, Cameron Laurendeau and Franklin Alcantara were scheduled to begin trial May 13 in connection with the late 2011 protest. That trial now has been pushed back to September due to scheduling conflicts. The four face a felony charge of vandalism and a misdemeanor for trespassing.

Ripley-Phipps served as a liaison between the group and the police. Transcripts from the preliminary hearing noted that Adams, Laurendeau and Alcantara were seen in the building at least twice. An indeterminate amount of people were present in the building during the three-day occupation, with dozens spotted in surveillance footage and in media coverage.

Complicating the case for the prosecution has been a lack of direct evidence proving that any of the 11 people originally charged in the case actually committed vandalism or trespassing. Nor has the prosecution introduced evidence establishing who committed the vandalism and when it occurred.

Defense attorneys have argued that no such evidence exists against the remaining defendants, and prosecutors have relied heavily upon a theory of aiding and abetting. A large problem with that theory, says Laurendeau’s attorney, Alexis Briggs, is that it leaves someone liable for the most misbehaving protesters.

As such, the prosecution’s case has had a chilling effect on first amendment-protected speech, says Briggs, of San Francisco-based Pier 5 Law Offices.

No one disputes vandalism did occur. Walls were covered were graffiti and several walls were damaged by puncture holes, according to the prosecution. Wells Fargo is seeking approximately $20,000 in restitution for damages and cleaning fees resulting from the takeover, according to court filings.

What began as a march against foreclosures led to entry being made into the long-vacant building by a group declaring themselves to be acting “anonymously and autonomously” in solidarity with Occupy Santa Cruz. The group remained inside amid numerous negotiations with Santa Cruz police before finally leaving without incident nearly 72 hours later.

The case seemed to take a positive step for the defense earlier this year when Santa Cruz County Judge Paul Burdick dismissed a felony charge of conspiracy against the defendants, ruling there was no evidence of direct collusion or agreement. He also rejected one of two misdemeanor trespass charges and dismissed all charges against Becky Johnson, Desiree Foster and Robert Norse. Previously charges were dismissed against Edward Rector, Grant Wilson, Alex Darocy and Bradley Stuart Allen.

In holding Ripley-Phipps, Adams, Alcantara and Laurendeau on the felony vandalism charge, Burdick said he was using the theory that it was a “direct and natural consequence” of the trespassing.

Of particular note was Burdick’s decision to take the rare step of fining the District Attorney’s Office $500 for what he said were Assistant District Attorney Rebekah Young’s continued delays in turning over evidence to the defense.

Burdick’s holding order was challenged last month by defense attorneys for Laurendeau, Ripley-Phipps and Adams, who motioned the court to dismiss the remaining charges against their clients. No such motion to dismiss was filed by Alcantara’s attorney.

In the 995 motions Judge Timothy Volkmann rejected, attorney Bryan Hackett wrote on behalf of Ripley-Phipps that the government’s case  “fails to establish essential elements of the crimes charged under any one of its three theories.” Those elements include needing evidence that Ripley-Phipps or the other defendants knew a perpetrator intended to commit a crime.

Briggs also takes issue with the fact that far more has been spent on the litigation and defense of this case than the monetary value of the damages, which is estimated to be about $22,000. An exact figure of how much money the litigation has cost wasn’t immediately available. As the case drags on, it’s also had serious consequences for those charged.

“For Cameron, and for all of the defendants, it’s sort of put their lives in a holding pattern,” Briggs says. “Decisions regarding school and employment on are on hold.”

Laurendeau was midway through an academic program and now has a pending felony conviction, she says. Burdick previously dismissed the charges against he and Alcantara, but the District Attorney’s Office later re-filed on them.

As of late April, court records show no evidence that sanctions levied against Santa Cruz County District Attorney Bob Lee’s office were ever paid. Lee’s office filed a motion asking for the fine to be stayed, but it was unclear whether the fine was levied against the District Attorney’s Office or specifically against Young, who is no longer with the office.

Alex Calvo, executive officer of the Santa Cruz County Superior Court, says he believes the prosecution is still working to appeal the fine.

The case has been handed over to prosecutor Greg Peinado, who says he received the assignment only recently and couldn’t comment further.

“I’m still reviewing all of the files,” he says, adding that the evidence includes hours of video footage he must view.

Lee was out of town and unable to be reached for comment by press time.


Photo: Bradley Allen / Indybay.org