Charges dropped against most Occupy the Capitol protesters

Gracie Malley/Staff
A number of protesters were arrested in the Capitol building following their decision to stay and occupy the space.

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Protesters received word from the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office Thursday advising that charges filed against 73 of the 77 protesters arrested during the Occupy the Capitol protests on March 5 were dismissed.

According to Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully, three protesters still have charges pending for resisting arrest after refusing to leave the rotunda area and for attempting to hang an illegal banner. The fourth protester is charged with possession of an illegal switchblade.

The next court date for the four protesters is scheduled to take place on May 8.

UC Berkeley junior James Chang breathed a sigh of relief when he heard from his legal counsel on Thursday that he would not have to travel to Sacramento for his previously scheduled court date for Friday. Thousands of college students traveled to Sacramento on March 5 to protest cuts to higher education, including Chang.

Although Chang has been a member of Occupy Cal since its inception on Nov. 9, he said this was his first arrest.

“It was a massive political event where thousands of students showed up to take a stand and, with the exception of talking my friends into getting arrested with me, I would not do anything differently,” Chang said.

Pro bono attorney Josh Kaizuka — who also acts as the lead attorney for the Occupy Sacramento defendants — issued a statement after learning that most of the clients represented by his firm in the Occupy the Capitol case would not be prosecuted.

“I applaud the careful review and use of discretion by the Sacramento District Attorney’s Office to not file criminal charges against the over 70 college students who risked arrest by conducting a peaceful demonstration in opposition to the ever increasing costs of a public education in the great state of California,” Kaizuka said in an email.

Scully stated in a press release that the protesters were all technically guilty of refusing to leave the Capitol after the building was closed to the public or were in violation of California Penal Code for engaging in behavior prohibited on the grounds of the Capitol.

She also said that reports from California Highway Patrol officers indicate the majority of those arrested were “passive resisters” and cooperative,  therefore arrest and detention served as sufficient consequences for their conduct on March 5.

Although Chang said he feels Occupy the Capitol sent a message to the legislature, he is concerned about tuition and fees for next year because they are still being negotiated.

“This gives us no time to mobilize because it is during the summer time, and a lot of students make plans to be away during the summer,” Chang said. “They picked a perfect time to silence the student engagement process.”

Chang said he hopes UC administrators will not increase fees, but said that if it does happen, “students will mobilize again.”