Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bruce Bratton weighs in on the Santa Cruz Eleven

 NOTE TO READER: Longtime columnist, Bruce Bratton wrote for the SENTINEL, then the Goodtimes, and finally Metro Santa Cruz. When that ended, Bratton chose to go online and post his columns where anyone with a computer connection could read them. He was a blogger before the word "blogger" had been invented. In this weeks edition, Bratton has weighed in on the Santa Cruz Eleven, and while promoting the July 1st fundraiser at India Joze, has some sharp words of criticism for DA Bob Lee.  ---- Becky Johnson, SC 11 defendant


 Bruce Bratton while a columnist
for Metro Santa Cruz

Found online here.

SANTA CRUZ 11 FUND RAISER. There’s going to be a fundraiser for the SC11 & Desiree Foster at INDIA JOZE starring RICK WALKER & TOM NODDY. The Santa Cruz Eleven are local community members who have been charged with an unprecedented variety of offenses arising from their alleged involvement with the occupation of a long-time vacant bank building late last fall, 2011.These defendants are either journalists, members of our local press, and/or activists supportive of the Occupy movement.

The Santa Cruz Eleven defendants were participating in constitutionally protected activities either as news gatherers, observers, or as supporters, including a mediator between police and activists inside the occupied building. Hundreds of individuals, if not more, entered and exited the bank building during the 75-hour occupation, including local elected officials, corporate press and “citizen journalist” bloggers.

Only the Santa Cruz Eleven have been charged, scape-goating those few who’re recognizable to police who never conducted an investigation of who actually broke into and/or damaged the building.

India Joze and the co-defendants are hosting this community gathering to bring awareness to the SC11 and to help out Desire Foster who is experiencing financial hardships. Grant Wilson says “Desiree Foster is the youngest person (of the SC-11) charged with 2 Felonies she’s 19 yrs old. She has been caring for her mother – diagnosed with a serious form of cancer.

If that wasn’t enough trauma for a 19 year old, in early February, without any advance notice, Desiree was arrested in her mother’s home, handcuffed, taken to jail & later released on $5000 bail*. As a result, Desiree tried unsuccessfully, to commit suicide.

Once again, it makes me deeply question the ethics & motives of District Attorney Bob Lee. You would think that a good District Attorney, anywhere in the country, would be focused on confronting and reducing suffering and crime in their community. But, in this situation, it seems as though there’s a serious miscarriage of justice. Our DA is, in fact, causing suffering!

 The event happens Sunday July 1st 3pm – 6pm at India Joze 418 Front St. Santa Cruz, CA

* While Foster was initially held on $5000 bail, after 9 hours she was released on her own recognizance without explanation

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Does Santa Cruz jail people for sleeping?

 At a January hearing in 2011, Ed Frey checks in with
expert witness, Dr. Paul Lee, as supporters Robert Norse
and Gail Page look on. Photo by Becky Johnson

by Becky Johnson
June 14, 2012

Santa Cruz, Ca. -- While my title may seem absurd, it is clear that the answer is "yes."  Both Gary Johnson, a homeless man, and his attorney, Ed Frey, slept outside the courthouse as part of Peace Camp 2010, to protest laws which criminalize the act of sleeping.  When County Counsel Dana McRae advised Sheriff's that they could cite protestors with 647 (e), the statewide anti-lodging law, sheriff's began to advise protestors that "illegal lodging would not be tolerated."

The misdemeanor law can involve immediate arrest for the act of "lodging," even though the legal meaning of that term is not defined within the law.

Because of this over-charging ( an infraction sleeping ban ticket would only have resulted in a maximum of 8 hours of community service, if found guilty) the very first ever jury trial on a sleeping ban was held before Judge John Gallagher last May.  Frey and Johnson were found guilty of sleeping.

To show his extreme displeasure with the whole process, Gallagher sentenced both Johnson and Frey to 6 months in jail for the "crime" of lodging, which court testimony said was sleeping. When Frey asked to be released on bail to appeal his conviction, Gallagher set bail at $50,000 each.  Both were handcuffed and jailed right as the hearing ended.

At a later hearing, Gallagher modified the bail to $110, which was, apparently, the bail schedule all along for 647 (e) violations.  Today, in Dept 5, a three-judge panel will hear Frey's appeal.  If the conviction is upheld, Frey and Johnson may be remanded to jail to finish serving their six-month sentences.

Does Santa Cruz REALLY put people in jail for sleeping?  You bet they do.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hero or Criminal?

In this SCPD police photo taken on November 30th, Desiree Foster, age 19, is seen
standing in front of the building around 4:30PM. Rocks placed inside wooden pallets
can be seen weighing down the ends of the banner drop, which were needed due to high winds.

 In a world gone Topsy-turvy, a 19 year old activist who served as a media representative is charged with serious felonies and misdemeanors while a greedy corporate bank which has carelessly left a valuable physical asset boarded up and unused for several years, most likely as a tax write-off, is the "victim" and is prosecuting protesters and whistle blowers while seeking $30,000 in "damages."

by Becky Johnson
June 12, 2012

Santa Cruz, Ca. -- The youngest of the Santa Cruz Eleven, Desiree Foster was arrested as she and her boyfriend were leaving her home on her way to the Santa Cruz County courthouse in an attempt to  quash her arrest warrant by agreeing to appear in court on a date certain. Instead, she spent the next nine hours sitting on plastic seating watching a deputy-controlled television set, having been arrested for two counts of felony conspiracy to trespass and vandalize, and two misdemeanor counts of trespass and vandalism with bail set at $5,000. Her mother, suffering from cancer attempted to raise the $500 to bail out her daughter, when, inexplicably, Desiree was released on her own recognizance.

But the pressure of the felony charges, the financial instability of her family, and the fear and dread that she faced in dealing with her mother's cancer, proved to be too much. Desiree took an overdose of pills and wound up in Dominican Hospital, treated for a suicide attempt.

Desiree, a passionate and idealistic young woman, had found her voice attending Occupy Santa Cruz general assemblies, and volunteered for many tasks. At home, she and her mother struggled to pay bills.  Desiree is her mother's primary caregiver, as she undergoes chemotherapy.   Desiree, like many in her generation, knew that something is inherently wrong with our system if she and her mother had to struggle to keep a roof over their heads while her mom was being treated for cancer.  She lived in a world where with or without a college education, young people could not find good jobs.

Without stable and affordable housing, reasonable wages for jobs, and quality health care for all who need it, too many of the 99% who have followed all the rules, worked hard, paid their taxes, are falling through the cracks. Too many still lack health care, are paid inadequate wages, and must pay housing costs that are through the roof.  Wells Fargo is a key player in the housing foreclosure crisis.

On November 30th, 2011, a group of activists and community members entered a long-vacant bank building leased to Wells Fargo, and attempted to turn it into a community center.   During the occupation of that building by 100 to 300 different people, Desiree volunteered for the task of media representative for the ad hoc occupiers.

"I spoke to the Sentinel, KION, Phil Gomez of KSBW, the Mid-County Post and the Santa Cruz Patch," Desiree told me by phone.  "I spoke to everyone. I told them that we wanted it to be something better than what it is now, just a vacant spot." She was interviewed on Community Television as well.

While Police Chief Kevin Vogel and DA Bob Lee have characterized Desiree and the Santa Cruz Eleven as "vandals" and "trespassers" who are disrespectful of private property, the truth is something quite different. For the persons who whole-heartedly embraced the temporary and largely symbolic takeover of 75 River Street, which Wells Fargo had all but abandoned, they meant to use it as a focal point to educate the general public about what that building COULD have been used for instead.

 SCPD photo of signs left behind at 75 River Street
naming what that building could have been used for.

Most of the occupiers believe that our democratic system has been hijacked by the wealthy. The wealthiest 1% (Wells Fargo) is profiting at the expense of the rest of the 99%.  For business as usual to continue, it means that you and me, the citizenry in Santa Cruz must live and work around Wells Fargo's 'dead spot' --an empty building sitting for four years now, without a single tenant, providing no jobs, no services, and very little tax revenue to the community, but undoubtedly providing a HUGE tax write-off for the ultra-wealthy bankers of Wells Fargo. While public funds are used to evict Wells Fargo's "trespassers,"  more public funds are used by a DA to conduct a witch hunt against a largely arbitrary list of "felons."

Truly those courageous and bold activists who gained entry to the dusty and unused interior without damaging the building in any way, did so for a purpose bigger than their own lives. They took considerable personal risk for doing so, and were unlikely to benefit financially from the takeover. Finally, they performed the occupation by using a consensus process, where they formally agreed to refrain from vandalism.

Indeed, police have thus far failed to provide any photographic evidence of this 'vandalism' in the hundreds of photos turned over to the defense as part of discovery. Other than some graffiti and an anarchist sticker on the ROOF air conditioning ducts, no other damage has been documented. Yet prosecutors Lee and Assistant DA Rebekah Young used a figure of " approximately $30,000" in damage in their indictments in statements written "under penalty of perjury."  Yet, even in court, Det. Gunter testified that the last time he checked "That number had been lowered to about $22,000."

SCPD photo of an anarchist sticker on the roof
access hatch at 75 River Street.

The trespassing claim may be questionable as well. For a person to be found guilty of trespassing, they must first be warned, and, upon that warning, fail to leave the premises. None of the eleven defendants fit that description. Police Officer William Winston testified that the first and only verbal warning was given by Sgt. Harms "between 7:30PM and 8PM" and "after dark." No signage is known to have been posted until the next day at the earliest.

None of the indictment documents include any evidence that Desiree was warned, and after that warning, failed to leave. Now this may be a technicality, the ability and authority for police to remove unauthorized people from private property involves a series of steps to be taken in a certain order. On the night of November 30th, Desiree met with various members of the press and facilitated answering their questions and providing them with interviews, statements, and at points, access.

During the 72-hour occupation, no protester or police officer was injured. Communication was facilitated between three of the protesters and police, public officials, and media. After 72 hours, the group decided to leave peacefully and even spent a few hours cleaning up before going. Their message had been communicated through the media to the public. In the end, the action spoke for itself.  Wells Fargo had been exposed as the thoughtless, land-hoarder that it is.  The public had been made aware of the building's occupation and the reasons for it.  And no one was hurt.  No confrontation with police occurred. No tasers. No percussion grenades. No tear gas. No batons swinging. Very little vandalism.  And there were no arrests.

So who is the criminal and who is the law-abiding good citizen? The greedy corporation that will use any property under its control to bilk more money for itself; dollars that should rightly have been paid to the government in taxes? Or a 19-year old girl who participated in a largely symbolic occupation to protest against that greed, that misuse of a valuable asset, and to fight against the fundamental inequities in economic justice system rigged by bought Congressmen and Judges to benefit the richest 1%?

Of course, if Desiree and the Santa Cruz Eleven ARE convicted and sent to prison, this is good news for Wells Fargo as well. For Wells Fargo is the biggest investor in the for-profit prison industry.

A BENEFIT DINNER  on SUNDAY JULY 1st to raise money for Desiree Foster's family will be held at India Joze Restaurant in Santa Cruz between 3PM and 6PM.  The first $500 raised will be designated to help the Foster family.  For more information:

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Santa Cruz Eleven case stalled

 Endless hearings ordered to appear before Judges where nothing of substance

happens is part of the problem, and part of the abuse

by Becky Johnson
June 2, 2012

Santa Cruz, Ca. -- In what has become a long series of dreary court hearings where almost nothing happens, Judge Sillman did not fail to disappoint. Friday, the June 1st hearing was ostensibly to install defendant, Brent Adams' public defender, to consider whether DA Rebekah Young had finally turned over sufficient discovery, and to set a new, NEW date for a preliminary hearing (This will be my THIRD date for a preliminary hearing).  In all of these hearings, should any defendant not appear in the proper court at the proper time, a warrant is issued for their arrest.

I call it punishment prior to conviction.  DA Bob Lee and his henchwoman, Rebekah Young have been hanging up the lives of 11 citizen activists, overcharging them with duel felonies and misdemeanors, and smeared them as "vandals" and "trespassers" who "don't respect private property." His attack on alternative media journalists is naked and self-serving. How can one journalist covering the event be ignored and another charged with felonies for the same actions? But this is the essence of the charges against nearly half of the defendants. One hundred to three-hundred people went into the building in 3 days time, but only these 11 have been charged.

In court on Friday, June 1st, Sillman curtly announced that the attorney he had appointed for Brent Adams the previous week "was not available" and that he was in the process of locating whether Attorney Charlie Stevens was in the building and could be appointed. Adams, who has been appearing pro per since his former PD, Ryan Murphy, discharged himself a week ago, told Sillman " I've already spoken with a Public Defender and he's agreed to represent me."

"Who is that?" Sillman asked.

"Jonathan Gettleman," Brent replied.
"We are not in the process of reaching that particular name," Sillman replied and ordered all defendants back in court ANOTHER week later at 8:15AM rather than appoint Gettleman on the spot. That means all 5 defendants, their 5 attorneys, press, and supporters must yet again rearrange their schedules, find transportation, parking, and appear under threat of arrest AGAIN because Sillman refused to appoint a PD that the defendant wanted and would be satisfied with.

For me, it's deja vu all over again.  Judge Ariadne Symons took five hearings to appoint me a public defender, when she could have appointed the attorney I wanted on day one. She accused me of having "other income" and challenged  that since I own a 15 year old car that I had recently purchased for $1,500,  as "proof" that I was income-eligible for the services of a public defender.

We all saw the results of failing to appear at one of Sillman's hearings. When DA Rebekah Young refiled charges on two defendants whose charges had previously been dismissed by Judge Paul Burdick, she ordered defendants Cameron Larendau and Franklin "Angel" Alcantara to be present in court at 8:30AM. When neither defendant nor either of their attorneys appeared, Sillman ordered a warrant issued for each of them. But supporters murmured that it was highly unlikely that all four people had blown off the hearing. A far more likely scenario was that DA Rebekah Young had made yet another misstep and failed to notify anyone properly.

This judicial merry-go round is getting me queasy.  The next surreal act is scheduled for June 8th at 8:15AM in Dept. 6.  Meanwhile, "victim" Wells Fargo Bank has not rented 75 River Street yet, and with an asking rental of $35, 231.34 per month, it's going to be a cold day in hell before anyone rents that building. And if the 11 (now 7) defendants wind up in prison with felony convictions, well, Wells Fargo wins. You see, Wells Fargo is the biggest investor in the for-profit prison industry in the United States. Not only do they tell the police and DA to do their bidding at public expense, but they profit from anyone jailed, whether justly or not.

They are a bank. It is all about numbers for them. They charge 11 people with "trespass" and "vandalism" and attempt to extort a phony "$31,000" in damages from the defendants. Later, while under oath, Det. Gunter of the SCPD testified that when he checked "The damages were not as severe as we first thought."  Now the damages are "$21,000". The only "proof" of any damages were police photos of graffiti on the air conditioning ducts on the ROOF of the building! It is doubtful it cost $21,000 in spray paint to restore the ducts to their

I suspect the ACTUAL damage to the building to be in the hundreds, NOT thousands of dollars range. Perhaps DA Bob Lee should investigate Wells Fargo for putting up such outrageous claims of damages that it amounts to fraud.

I've been thinking about Rosa Parks lately.  I compared Rosa Parks to the people who occupied 75 River Street-- a vacant bank building--and tried to turn it into a community center.  It was a noble idea. To turn a blighted building, hoarded by a greedy and heartless bank purely for tax benefits, into a vibrant building serving the public good. I'd long eyed that building as a perfect homeless shelter, since it sat empty year after year employing no one, sheltering no one,  and taking up useful space uselessly.  In 2010, while 75 River Street sat empty, four homeless people died of exposure out of doors in Santa Cruz.

Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of that bus, and she was arrested.  She broke the law intentionally, but did so for the greater good. The people who occupied 75 River Street were like Rosa Parks. They intentionally broke the law, but did so for the greater good.  Now let me make one thing clear:  I am no Rosa Parks. In this scenario, I would have been the person who stayed at the bus stop and never got on that bus in the first place. I'd be like the person who SAW Rosa Parks' brave act and cheered her on from the sidelines.  You see, I never went into the building. I'm a big chicken.

Yet the toll for the defendants is piling up. "Angel" Alcantara was able to make it to court that day and quash the warrant. But Cameron Larendau could not. He lives in Oakland, CA., doesn't own a car, and it takes him 3 and a half hours by public transportation to come to each court appearance. Desiree Foster, the youngest defendant at 19 years of age, is taking care of her mother who is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. When Desiree was arrested, her mom bailed her out of jail, but they really couldn't afford the $500. Shortly after that, Desiree attempted suicide and was hospitalized. In my own case, I was handcuffed at my home, carted to jail, and spent the night locked up in "G" Dorm.

The costs to our 1st amendment rights are harder to calculate. Who has been too chilled to join a march since the prosecutions were announced? Who no longer wants to associate with the 11 activists charged lest they be next, or with anyone involved in Occupy Santa Cruz?  And what photographer, journalist or blogger isn't chilled when the CONTENT of their reporting is being charged as "aiding" and "abetting" criminal activity? Yet "the people" as represented by DA Bob Lee march forward, entirely at public expense, and push forward Bob's dirty little dog and pony show, where our rights to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, our rights to peaceably assemble, and our rights to seek redress of government grievances are severely challenged and truncated just to promote the interests of Wells Fargo and the status quo.  Where is State Attorney General Kamela Harris on this? Does SHE approve of what DA Bob Lee is doing?