A group of activists arrested during a protest over the Sacramento police shooting of Stephon Clark successfully asked a judge Friday for a trial rather than be forced to pay a fine.
Eight activists supporting Black Lives Matter appeared in Sacramento Superior Court, where they faced a penalty of up to $1,100 each for trespassing at Sacramento City Hall, according to Carly Brannin, one of those charged. The activists said though the charges carried no criminal consequences, they didn’t want to waive their right to be heard before a judge because they didn’t think they had committed a crime.
Five of the eight were arraigned and pleaded not guilty. Three were not in the court system due to an error but planned on asking for a court date, said Brannin.
The charges were originally filed as misdemeanors, but were reduced to infractions a day before an earlier August court appearance, she said. The lesser charges are usually handled as a ticket or citation, rather than a criminal matter.
Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Shelly Orio said her office declined to file charges on one activist, and was not involved with the citations for trespassing.
Speaking for the group at a press event before Friday’s hearing, Brannin said the protesters believed the charges had been reduced “in order to deny us our right to a trial by jury and the right to free legal representation.”
“This is an effort to silence our voices of dissent,” Brannin said.
The charges stemmed from a silent protest in the lobby of Sacramento City Hall on June 21.
Brannin said police told the activists they had to leave the building, but she and the seven others charged refused to go.
“They told us to leave at one point and a few of us decided to stay back and were arrested for a sit-in,” Brannin said.
Melissa McTernan, another of the people charged, said she was innocent.
“Trespassing is a charge you can get if you are in a space and don’t have official business being in that building,” said McTernan, an assistant professor of psychology at Sacramento State. “But we did in fact have business being there.”
Clark was shot by two Sacramento police officers on March 18. The officers were responding to a call of a person breaking car windows in a South Sacramento neighborhood. A Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department helicopter spotted Clark in a backyard and directed officers to him, though it is unknown if Clark was the suspect officers sought.
Officers chased Clark into his grandmother’s backyard, where they apparently mistook his cellphone for a gun and shot him eight times.