Yolo County prosecutors on Tuesday reduced charges against 10 protesters who blocked the entrance to Monsanto’s Woodland seed plant in May.
The decision by the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office to lessen misdemeanor charges – which included resisting arrest and unlawful assembly – to infractions for loitering came as the self-styled “Monsanto 10” were to be arraigned in Yolo Superior Court.
The group was arrested on May 22 while protesting Monsanto’s production of genetically modified foods and the herbicide Roundup, along with what they see as an outsized corporate influence over U.S. food policy.
“Corporations have extended their power so greatly over every aspect of our lives – including the food we eat,” said defendant Pamela Sue Osgood of Grass Valley while standing outside the courthouse after the hearing. “We can’t stop pesticide development in our own community.”
Prosecuting Yolo County Deputy District Attorney Rob Gorman told defendants the reduced charges – equivalent to a traffic ticket – reflected that the demonstration was peaceful and that none of the defendants had prior criminal records.
That explanation brought protest from one of the defendants, Robert Stuart Saunders.
“You sound disappointed,” Gorman said, adding he had never heard of a defendant complaining about a prosecutor reducing charges.
“I am (disappointed),” Saunders said. “I was seeking a jury trial.”
Many of the nine defendants who appeared before Yolo Superior Court Commissioner J. Kent O’Mara (one, Elliot Dunlap Smith Adams, is out of the country, and was represented by an attorney) said they were taken aback by the DA’s decision to reduce charges. They said they believe the move is an attempt by county prosecutors to sidestep a jury trial and a tacit admission of overreach by local authorities.
Others defendants include Andrew Cabot Conn; Mauro Martins DeOliveira; Shoshonna Kahla Mackey; Shirley Louise Osgood; Steven Ray Payan, Jr.; Susan Emery Roberts; and Lena Marie Romero.
All nine defendants asked to have their proceedings delayed and will return Sept. 18 to Yolo Superior Court. On that date, they will either enter a plea to the infraction or contest it.