Crime, Fire + Courts

Judge: Defense didn’t show bank protesters singled out

By From page A3 | December 02, 2012

A superior court judge on Friday failed to bite on a motion made on behalf of 11 UC Davis students and one professor charged with blockading a U.S. Bank branch last winter — a group whose defense attorneys argued was handpicked for prosecution.

After the Nov. 18, 2011 police pepper-spraying of Occupy UC Davis protesters on the Quad, the attorneys contended, their clients often denounced campus leaders in the media, at town hall meetings and during protests.

Bringing the group up on misdemeanor charges for the subsequent blockade provided a way to punish them retroactively, without a public confrontation, out of the sight of cell phone or television cameras, the attorneys said.

“(The police and prosecutor) ignored (protesters) except those they knew — and they knew them because these are the more notorious individuals,” said defense attorney Ronald Johnson.

The defense’s attempt to receive approval for a discovery motion would have allowed the lawyers to fish for proof of that theory, proof that if found might have led to a dismissal.

Nothing doing.

Yolo County Superior Court Judge David Reed said that he felt the defense had failed to draw a clear enough distinction between others who took part in the blockade and the accused that indicated they were being unfairly treated. They don’t fit into a protected class by race, religion, gender or union membership, for instance.

Defense attorneys described the accused as protest leaders on campus. In the past, the bank action has been called an “autonomous action” on the part of some who have also been part of Occupy UC Davis.

Arrests were not made when protesters daily forced the branch to close. Instead, the now-defendants — called the “Banker’s Dozen” or “Davis Dozen” by supporters — received letters in the mail ordering them to court.

The protesters face 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.

A hearing is set for Jan. 18 to fix a trial date.

Michael Cabral, Yolo County assistant chief deputy district attorney, shook off the idea that there was any “evil purpose” behind whom the district attorney’s office charged.

“We didn’t single them out to punish them because of who they were,” Cabral said after Friday’s hearing. “Some of them (the police) recognized from other contexts. Some of them they recognized from looking at social media sites and identifying them. There were a number of ways (police) identified them, and they tried to identify as many people as possible.”

Defense attorney Alexis Briggs said that Reed seemed to be looking for a clear case of discrimination — “a perfect mathematical set that excludes all others and includes only those related, (like a case in which) a black person was prosecuted but a white person was not.”

“I think the court is not paying attention to the fact that the distinguishing feature is the public shaming of UC Davis police and the UC Davis administration that went on strongly for months,” she said.

The protesters began blocking the bank branch daily on Jan. 2, targeting it as a symbol of the privatization of the university and corporate greed. On March 1, U.S . Bank halted a 10-year contract estimated to have been worth $3 million earmarked for student services.

The bank accused UCD of breach of contract by not doing enough to end the protest. UCD settled out of court, paying the bank $225,000.

Both the university and bank have said they will not seek restitution from the protesters.

Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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