SANTA CRUZ > Judge dismisses charges against two activist journalists
Two more of the “Santa Cruz 11” have had all charges against them dismissed. During a half-hour hearing on Monday, May 14, Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge Paul Burdick dismissed the charges of trespassing, vandalism and conspiracy against Bradley Stuart Allen and Alex Darocy, which stemmed from their alleged involvement in the November 2011 occupation of a vacant downtown bank building.
A group “standing in solidarity with Occupy Santa Cruz” illegally entered the building, located at 75 River St. and leased by Wells Fargo, and, over the following three days, hundreds of people visited the site. Santa Cruz police watched the scene and, in February 2012, the District Attorney charged 11 people with trespassing, vandalism and felony conspiracy.
Allen and Darocy have argued they were at the occupation as independent journalists. Local mainstream journalists also seen entering the building were not charged, including a Santa Cruz Sentinel photographer—a fact discussed by Burdick in court.
Earlier this month, charges were dismissed against four co-defendants: Franklin Alcantara, Cameron Larendau, Edward Rector and Grant Wilson. Assistant District Attorney Rebekah Young, heading the prosecution, told GT that charges have already been re-filed against Larendau and Alcantara.
As Burdick announced the dismissal, Allen threw his hands into the air for a moment, relieved by the outcome. “I think I should be compensated for the time, money and stress,” Allen tells GT. “It’s been a clear violation of my civil rights.”
In an email to GT, Allen’s attorney Ben Rice writes, “The DA needed to prove that Bradley and Alex were conspiring with others to trespass and do vandalism. There was no ‘direct’ evidence … so the argument was that they were the ‘media arm’ of people who did conspire. The DA claimed they ‘aided and abetted’ by publishing photos of the occupation.”
ADA Young—herself a CNN producer from ’91 to ’97—tells GT that she respects the findings of Judge Burdick. “He had clearly done his homework,” she says, adding, “They want to make it some first amendment issue and it’s not … Facts can sometimes be open to multiple takes. I didn’t think so in this case, but I’m not the judge.”
Allen posted photos he took of the vacant building occupation on the website Indybay.org and on his own website, alongside galleries of photos from other local marches, rallies and events. Indybay is a coalition of independent Bay Area journalists. Allen says he was surprised to discover in December that three of his photos had been re-posted by the Santa Cruz Police Department.
“SCPD put a post on their blog, [that said] ‘These photos were taken by Bradley Stuart inside the bank,’ and ‘Please help us identify the people in these photos,’” says Allen. “They mentioned me by name but not where the photos had been taken from—Indybay.org. The same day they did another post, [saying] ‘These photos were taken from The Sentinel and Patch,’ and didn’t mention the photographers names. The whole case against me was that I’m not a legit[imate] journalist.”
Allen recalls Judge Burdick pointing this discrepancy out in the courtroom: “The judge said if someone is guilty from being inside the building and reporting, then why are only the Indybay reporters charged?”
Allen and Darocy’s case was bolstered by a brief submitted to the court by the ACLU of Northern California.
Allen believes the District Attorney and police targeted activists and independent journalists. “It was done to cause division in the community,” Allen says. “It seems like a tactic used around the world of preemptively detaining people and unlawfully charging people.”
SIX DOWN, FIVE TO GO?
Five additional people face charges in the building occupation and are scheduled to appear in court on May 29: Brent Adams, Desiree Foster, Gabriella Ripley-Phipps, Becky Johnson and Robert Norse.
“I empathize with the people still going to court,” Allen says. “I understand what it’s like to be facing two felonies and two misdemeanors. Now I’ve had two days without that hanging over me. It feels a lot better.
“I don’t want people to think that justice was served in my case,” he continues. “I don’t want people to think, ‘You went before a judge, the judge was fair, the charges were dismissed, everything’s cool.’ It’s not cool.”
PHOTO: BRADLEY STUART/INDYBAY