Many of the 13 protesters charged in relation to the Nov. 9 Occupy Cal protests are crying foul over what they say is a concerted attempt by UCPD and the university to silence them.
The 13 who were presented with criminal charges are mainly former and current students at UC Berkeley. For most of them, this week begins further court proceedings where they will fight against the charges, all of which they have pleaded not guilty to. Since they were issued, the charges have faced widespread condemnation, especially after 12 of the 13 protesters were issued stay-away orders barring them from UC property.
“It’s certainly problematic that of the hundreds of people … the people (UCPD) focused on seem to be the people that have been politically active on campus,” said John Hamasaki, an attorney for graduate student Shane Boyle, one of those charged. “It’s a way for (UCPD) to try to silence certain student leaders.”
Not all of the protesters who were arrested Nov. 9 were charged, and some of the protesters who were charged were not cited on the day of the protest.
UCPD, however, contends that the 13 who were charged were chosen because they could be identified based on evidence, whereas others could not.
The police department used a number of methods to identify the protesters, according to UCPD spokesperson Lt. Eric Tejada, including outreach to other law enforcement agencies, identification based on prior arrests by UCPD and interviews with witnesses. Nearby agencies proved particularly useful because many of those identified had also been active in Occupy Oakland, Tejada said.
According to BAMN attorney Ronald Cruz, UCPD were “scanning the internet” to find additional evidence. Documents charging Joshua Anderson included a blog article he wrote, Cruz said.
“The reason we’re able to charge those 13 is because we’re able to identify them,” Tejada said. “There were other people but we weren’t able to identify them.”
According to Tejada, UCPD collects evidence and then presents the cases to the district attorney, who ultimately decides whom to charge. Some of the charges the current protesters face include obstruction of an officer, obstructing a sidewalk and resisting arrest.
Still, some like BAMN organizer Yvette Felarca, one of the 13 charged, feel there are ulterior motives behind how UCPD chose whom to present to the district attorney.
“This is a political witch hunt that is conducted by the UCPD,” Felarca said. “They’re trying to make examples of us to other people.”
Linda Lye, Northern California ACLU board member emphasized the need for the police department to be completely transparent about how it chose who to present to the district attorney for charging. Lye pointed out how many of the charged were either major leaders or had serious injuries from the UCPD and sought treatment at the Tang Center.
The Tang Center has also been shrouded in controversy for its role in the charging decisions when it was revealed that they, as per state law, reported the identities of protesters who sought treatment that day to UCPD. UCPD, however, said that it did not use any information provided by the Tang Center.
Now, many of the protesters’ attorneys say that they will attempt to have the charges dropped as soon as possible. Juan Davalos, one of the 13 charged, already had his charges dropped last week.
Cruz said he will ask for the charges to be dismissed on the basis that they discriminate against protesters for political affiliations and that it is a violation of their right to free speech. Other attorneys said they would be looking into taking similar action for their clients.
“After we spent some time with (the district attorney) and helped educate them, they agreed to terminate the stay-away orders,” Hamasaki said. “I’d like to do the same with the criminal cases.”