Charges against one Nov. 9 protester dropped under direction of Birgeneau

Eugene W. Lau/Staff
Juan Davalos, seen here during the November 9th protests, has had his protest-related charges dropped after Chancellor Birgeneau withdrew his support.

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OAKLAND — The charges against one of the protesters involved in the Nov. 9 Occupy Cal demonstration were dropped Monday morning following the direction of UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau.

Juan Davalos — who faced one misdemeanor charge of obstructing a public place — is one of 13 protesters who have been charged in regards to the Nov. 9 protests but is the only protester so far to have his charges dropped. All of the protesters have pleaded not guilty.

In court Monday, a representative from the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office read a statement saying the dismissal came after Birgeneau withdrew his support for the charges.

The statement reads, “Since charges were filed, Chancellor Birgeneau communicated his position which now withdraws support of the prosecution of the charged defendants.  At the Chancellor’s direction, the University has not taken any steps towards administrative hearings or other sanctions against any person arrested or cited following the November 9th protest.”

The district attorney’s office believed that going forward with the cases would not “serve the interest of justice,” according to the statement.

A few days after the protest, Birgeneau granted amnesty from the campus disciplinary process to Berkeley students “who were arrested and cited solely for attempting to block the police.”

In March, the Berkeley Faculty Association circulated a petition that gathered more than 360 signatures asking Birgeneau to condemn the charges against the protesters. In response, Birgeneau and other high-level administrators sent a letter to the district attorney calling attention to the petition and urging the district attorney to “be sensitive to the context of the campus environment and to the strong feelings this has raised on campus, as reflected in the petition.”

Still, this withdrawal of support for charging the protesters represents a shift in Birgeneau’s position. In the March letter, Birgeneau and the administrators did not take a definitive position on the charges.

“I’m happy about the charges being dropped,” Davalos said Monday outside the courtroom. He declined to comment further.

The decision to dismiss Davalos’ charges follows a series of court proceedings over the past few weeks during which eight of the 12 stay-away orders issued against the protesters were lifted. The orders barred the protesters —  most of whom are students — from coming within 100 yards of any campus property except to fulfill work or school-related business.

BAMN attorney Ronald Cruz, who represents some of the protesters, said all the charges need to be lifted for the remaining demonstrators.

“This is a victory,” Cruz said. “Students have made it clear that they will fight for public education and will not be intimidated by the district attorney or the administration.”

Christine Rosen, co-chair of the Berkeley Faculty Association, said the dismissal decision sets a positive precedent for the remaining cases.

“It’s a wise decision … it should have happened sooner,” Rosen said.

Anjuli Sastry covers city government.