A UC Davis professor and 11 students pleaded guilty on Monday to a disturbing the peace infraction for their role in protests that resulted in U.S. Bank closing its Memorial Union branch.
In a plea deal made with the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office, the protesters agreed to each perform 80 hours of community service.
“What we wanted was for them to take responsibility for protesting in an illegal manner, and we think that’s what we got,” said Michael Cabral, Yolo County assistant chief deputy district attorney.
The protesters maintain that UCD administrators and police singled them out of a larger group because they were known activists. In a statement, they claimed their own measure of victory: “no convictions, no bureaucratic revenge and no bank.”
“The absurd case is now history,” the statement reads. “The questions of the university’s increasing entanglement with finance; the catastrophe of student debt; and the systematically brutal, excessive, and wasteful criminalization of protest remain very much of the moment.”
The protesters began blocking the bank branch, causing it to shut down daily, in January 2012. Three months later, the branch closed for good.
Arrests were not made on the scene. Instead, those arrested — called the “Banker’s Dozen” by supporters — received letters in the mail ordering them to court.
The protesters faced a June 17 trial date on 20 counts each of obstructing movement on a street or in a public place and one count each of conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail. Obstruction, also a misdemeanor, carries a penalty of up to six months in jail.
On Monday, they accused UCD and the DA’s Office of wasting taxpayer money.
Cabral said the defendants could have ended the case long ago. The plea offer had been on the table “for over a year,” he said. “We didn’t do anything but file responses to their motions.”
Defendant Joshua Clover, an English professor, said that wasn’t true.
“The only previous offer featured a misdemeanor plea, which no one among the dozen was interested in taking, given our position that no misdemeanor was committed, and the gathering wealth of evidence indicating a sort of elaborate (if sort of incompetent) effort by the administration and bank to concoct such charges,” Clover wrote in an email message.
Attorney Alexis Briggs said the defense waited to accept the deal until it had direct assurances that neither the university nor the bank intended to seek restitution. Both had earlier announced they would not.
The infraction and number of hours of community service each defendant would serve also were not hashed out until last week, Briggs said. The final number of hours, 80, is the same that in Cabral told The Enterprise in May 2012 that he had offered the defendants.
Briggs said the university’s response to the bank protest further exposed “wholly inadequate” training for campus police and poor decision-making by administrators. The task force that investigated the Nov. 18, 2011, pepper-spraying of Occupy UC Davis protesters on the Quad reached similar conclusions.
Said Briggs, “It appears that after the extremely violent and aggressive tactics used in November, the only tactic that the university would then approve is that absolutely no action was to be taken whatsoever — other than continuing to allow and, in some cases, encourage people to try to enter the bank that had no business there. There were U.S. Bank employees that posed as customers attempting to enter.
“There appears to have been this fairly traditional sense of entrapment, sort of creating these instances of blocking (people from entering the bank branch). If (the police had) started issuing citations to people who had actually been blocking, the entire situation probably would have not extended beyond a couple of days.”
U.S. Bank’s shuttering of the branch halted a 10-year contract estimated to have been worth $3 million earmarked for student services.
The bank and UCD then traded accusations of breach of contract, with the bank claiming not enough was done to end the protest. UCD sued, only to eventually pay the bank $225,000 as part of a settlement.
University spokesperson Claudia Morain declined to comment in detail about the case on Tuesday, saying only, “We very much appreciate the Yolo County District Attorney’s hard work on this case.”
— Reach Cory Golden at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden