Crime - Sacto 911

‘Brown Beret’ activist faces assault, riot charges from Capitol melee with neo-Nazis

Activist Michael Williams was arraigned Friday on charges related to last year’s bloody state Capitol clash between neo-Nazi sympathizers and counter-demonstrators, and he remains in custody on $500,000 bail.

Button-wearing supporters, local activists and legal monitors attended the Friday afternoon hearing for Williams, 56, in front of Sacramento Superior Court Judge Jaime Roman. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and participating in a riot.

Sacramento County District Attorney’s officials this week announced four arrests more than a year after the donnybrook between neo-Nazis and anti-fascist, or Antifa, demonstrators that left 10 people hurt, including at least five who were stabbed. The violence led to widespread criticism of how California Highway Patrol officers responded to the scene.

Another man, Porfirio Paz, is expected to appear Monday morning before Roman on charges related to the melee.

Linda Parisi, Williams’ attorney, quickly called for a Monday hearing to seek lower bail for Williams, who supporters say was a member of a group known as the “Brown Berets” that provided protection for counter-demonstrators at the neo-Nazi rally.

“We are always very concerned when individuals who are exercising their constitutional rights are accused of such serious crimes,” Parisi told reporters following the hearing, calling the six-figure bail amount “extremely significant.”

“It is a cherished part of our democracy and a free society that members of our society have a right to speak out, so we must be very careful when the government brings charges against an individual,” Parisi continued.

Roman will hear arguments Monday from Parisi and prosecuting Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Paris Coleman on Williams’ bail.

About two dozen supporters of Williams gathered in front of the jail prior to his arraignment with signs and buttons calling for his release.

Steven Payan, a friend of Williams, described him as “a genuinely good person” and a member of the Shoshone Indian tribe who was involved in many local causes, including civil rights and indigenous issues.

Payan said he and Williams were both “Brown Berets,” a statewide collective of American Indian activists that provides unofficial security at rallies and protests.

Other Williams supporters questioned why police were able to identify and arrest three anti-fascist protesters but only one neo-Nazi after a year-long investigation.

“It’s just very disturbing how there are three people of color being confined, yet they’re the ones who got stabbed,” said Miguel Angel Banuelos, a mixed martial arts fighter whose family owns La Terraza restaurant in Old Sacramento.

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith

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