Litigation continues against Gill Tract occupiers

Anna Vignet/File
Police raid the Gill Tract occupiers in Albany on May 14.

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Ongoing litigation continues against protesters who occupied UC-owned land in Albany two weeks after UCPD cleared out the encampment.

Two of the 10 protesters arrested during the May 14 raid on the Occupy the Farm camp had their charges dropped by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office last Wednesday, and one accepted a plea bargain last Thursday. Fifteen protesters named in a civil suit filed against them by the university await their next court date Thursday.

According to Deputy District Attorney Teresa Drenick, Edward Miller — who was arrested on May 14 after allegedly climbing a tree, urinating on a police officer and throwing a plant starter at an officer — pleaded guilty Thursday to resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer. He was sentenced to 30 days in county jail, three years of probation and a stay-away order from the Gill Tract.

The district attorney’s office chose not to file charges against farm protesters Mari Belmares and Charles Allred based on the “interest of justice,” according to Drenick.

Sheryl Rowe and Marisa Skaggs, who were arrested on May 14 for allegedly trespassing on the Gill Tract, have arraignment hearings at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in Oakland scheduled for June 11.

The 15 protesters named in a lawsuit brought against them by the UC also await legal proceedings. The next court date in the suit for the group is Thursday.

“We didn’t do anything wrong,” said Gopal Dayaneni, spokesperson for Occupy the Farm and one of the 15 protesters named in the suit. “We did what was right. We opened up a possibility in people’s imaginations that something better could be done on that land.”

“We urge the administration and campus police to drop all charges against the farmers and protesters, and to engage in good-faith negotiations to ensure that the Gill Tract is reserved for community-based agricultural use to be governed as a form of commons in conjunction with the farmers and local community,” reads the statement.

In a May 11 letter, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer and Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance John Wilton wrote that the lawsuit would be dropped if the protesters left peacefully and did not re-occupy the Gill Tract.

Although the protesters moved their camp site south of the research land by the May 12 deadline set by Breslauer and Wilton, they continued to farm the rows of crops they had planted up until the day of the May 14 raid.

A May 18 letter from Breslauer and Wilton said that the campus is still wiling to discuss the possibility of urban farming on the Gill Tract. The letter also said that staff from the College of Natural Resources are tending to 40 rows of protester-planted crops that were preserved and kept alongside crops originally planted for staff research.

Christopher Yee is an assistant news editor.