Felony assault charges will go forward against the three anti-fascist demonstrators arrested in connection with a violent state Capitol clash with white supremacists in June 2016 that left 10 people injured.
Berkeley teacher and activist Yvonne Felarca, Brown Beret member Michael Williams and Porfirio Paz were told Friday in Sacramento Superior Court that the charges will stand. The three earlier accused local authorities of a "witch hunt" targeting anti-Nazi protesters.
“The bottom line is this: There’s nothing … that shows that the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office planned to carry out any discrimination against the defendants,” Judge Michael Savage said from the bench after hearing nearly two hours of argument Friday to dismiss assault charges.
The three protesters who have faced felony charges since their arrest last year will return to Savage’s courtroom for a July 20 preliminary hearing in the final step before trial. The protesters remain free pending the July hearing.
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Defense attorneys argued the approximately 130 California Highway Patrol officers posted at the rally did nothing to protect the protesters who came under attack, later accusing CHP investigators and Sacramento County District Attorney’s officials of covering for the rally’s Traditionalist Worker Party and Golden State Skinheads while singling out anti-fascists.
The arrests of the three counter-demonstrators and one Colorado white supremacist, former Sacramento resident William Planer, came after a year-long CHP investigation that produced 2,000 pages of findings but few arrests.
Planer remains held in Sacramento County custody in lieu of $600,000 bail on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. He returns to court May 10 ahead of a trial date.
“This prosecution came after us and us only,” Porfirio Paz’s attorney Mark Reichel said, citing declarations from witnesses and alleged victims that defense attorneys say were ignored by prosecutors. “We can’t leave this courtroom as lawyers with hundreds of pages of evidence on our side and have them say, ‘It’s not true.’”
Michael Williams’ attorney, Linda Parisi, depicted the violence as a clash between unlawful hate groups armed with knives and homemade spears and peaceful protesters forced to defend themselves from attack, invoking the image of Charlottesville, Va., and the racial violence that left a woman dead at a white supremacist rally.
“The fascists came with an agenda. Their agenda is hate. They came armed, they came with knives, with sticks fashioned as bayonets. That’s how they came to exercise their speech. The Constitution doesn’t allow that,” Parisi said.
“The prosecution says, ‘There are bad actors on all sides of the conflict.’ They said that in Charlottesville. A woman lost her life there,” Parisi said. “There is no moral equivalency when you have a group that stands for hate.”
But prosecuting Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Paris Coleman rejected claims that prosecutors discriminated against the counter-demonstrators. He said Felarca did not file police reports, while others did not cooperate with authorities.
“No one from my office really cares about their ethnicity or political views,” he said. “We charge when we know we can prove a crime – that’s our duty. Williams, Paz and Felarca are captured on video and they’re standing up saying we have no evidence? Where I come from, that means, ‘Let’s go to trial.’”
Savage, too, rejected the defense claims, setting up the July preliminary hearing.
“It’s not a numbers game. It’s whether the DA can prove the crimes beyond a reasonable doubt,” Savage said. “The defense hasn’t met the burden of discriminatory prosecution.”
The hearing again was packed with the defendants’ supporters – more than 50 between Savage’s fifth-floor courtroom at Sacramento County Courthouse and in the hallway outside.
The hearing had been scheduled for a courtroom at Patino Hall of Justice inside Sacramento County Jail before a last-minute decision to hold the session at the main courthouse. Supporters of the defendants, now dubbed the “Sacramento 3,” marched the several blocks from the jail to the county courthouse. No incidents were reported.