A new judge will decide in April whether criminal charges against three anti-fascist protesters arrested in the Capitol grounds brawl with neo-Nazis in 2016 will go forward, a Sacramento judge ruled Friday before a courtroom filled to capacity with the trio’s supporters.
The Friday hearing ended a contentious week of dueling motions: one claiming cover-up and collusion between Sacramento authorities and the white supremacist hate groups who violently clashed with protesters; the other blasting defense assertions as fictions designed to be tried in the streets and social media, not in the courtroom.
The case now will go before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Kevin McCormick. If McCormick decides in April that the case against Yvonne Felarca, Porfirio Paz and Michael Williams can proceed, the three will face a preliminary hearing in May. Felarca was one of 10 people who were injured in the rioting. As many as five people were stabbed.
In court documents calling for charges to be dropped, Felarca’s attorney, Ronald Cruz, accused investigators of ignoring victims’ accounts and harassing wounded counterprotesters in their hospital beds while suppressing evidence of neo-Nazi attacks on protesters and shielding the identities of white supremacists involved in the June 26, 2016, rally.
Cruz in the motion points to a July 6, 2016, telephone call from CHP lead investigator Donovan Ayers to Doug McCormack, the Traditionalist Worker Party member said to have applied for the rally permit, that appears to alert him to a public records request for the paperwork.
“I’m gonna suggest that we hold that or redact your name or something until this thing gets resolved,” Ayers tells McCormack, according to the motion. In another instance, Cruz’s motion alleges Ayers identified at least six neo-Nazis in the vicinity of an African-American man who was attacked and stabbed during the melee, but concluded that the attack couldn’t be linked to a single person.
The protesters’ attorneys said the new date will give them time to contact out-of-town witnesses and continue to work to dismiss charges.
Felarca, a Berkeley activist and teacher, was quick to declare a victory after the hearing before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Jaime Roman.
“We continue to scare this judge. He didn’t feel he could risk the wrath of the movement, so he booted it to another judge,” Felarca told supporters gathered outside Sacramento County Main Jail’s Patino Hall of Justice. “Short of winning, this is the next best thing. We didn’t lose it.”
Authorities’ actions in the aftermath of the bloody rally, the attorneys argued, set the stage for the deadly violence the following year at the infamous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office pushed back on the defense claims, first in a strongly worded statement Wednesday, then in prosecuting deputy district attorney Paris Coleman’s terse rebuttal released by the office ahead of Friday’s hearing: “Every assertion made in defendants’ motion is either inaccurate or fabricated,” Coleman wrote, arguing that defense attorneys’ dismissal motion “was drafted only to satisfy their desire to make a political statement.”