By Crescenzo Vellucci
SACRAMENTO – More than a month after it began – a two-day hearing interrupted by the holidays and a busy court – the preliminary trial of three anti-fascists for their alleged part in a June 2016 violent, bloody riot at State Capitol involving white supremacist groups wrapped up in Sacramento County Superior Court here Tuesday.
But will the court decide to bind the three defendants over to stand for felony assault and riot charges in a full-blown trial? That won’t be known until late Friday afternoon when Superior Court Judge Stacy Boulware Eurie will announce her decision.
The Sacramento County District Attorney’s office presented only one witness – California Highway Patrol officer Donovan Ayers – to support its case against Yvette Felarca, Michael Williams and Porfirio Paz, represented respectively by pro bono lawyers Ron Cruz/Shanta Driver, Linda Parisi and Marc Reichel
Before it was done Tuesday, Williams’ attorney (Parisi) called Ayers a liar. Paz’ lawyer (Reichel) tag-teamed her accusation, and added that the officer and the CHP investigation were “biased.”
Both Parisi and Reichel – two of the top criminal defense lawyers in the area – described the preliminary trial as the strangest they had seen. “Unbelievable,” they said, charging that virtually no evidence was presented alleging guilt of their clients.
Before a packed courtroom of supporters for the three anti-fascists, Ayers did present as an odd witness – he said he was on the rooftop of the Capitol Building that day nearly three years ago, but admitted he could didn’t see the alleged crimes that were committed because of thick foliage and trees surrounding the building.
“(Ayers) is only an eyewitness to the background story. We’re asked to rely on his truth (but) the court must delete his testimony. It’s clear…the case is biased,” said Reichel, claiming that the court was told “something so untrue.”
Ayers, under intense questioning, admitted “I wasn’t able to see people stabbed.” (seven were hospitalized with stab wounds), even though Ayers said he knew the TWP group had knives and other weapons.
Reichel hammered Ayers on the stand, almost mocking the CHP officer when he elicited testimony from Ayers that he thoroughly researched the political and personal lives of the defendants to discover they are “opposed to white supremacist and Nazi,” but didn’t do the same for the members of the Traditionalist Workers Party, a pro-Nazi organization.
Ayers, in fact, said he had applied for Facebook warrants for the defendants, and didn’t bother to do the same for TWP members.
“I found nothing (that some TWP members were in fact members),” said Ayers. Reichel shot back “Well, you don’t sign up at the DMV as a member.”
Ayers also confessed he had promised members of the Nazi-sympathizing TWP he would “shield” their identities from media, and the pubic to “protect” them.
“Did you know that the TWP believe the white race is better than non-Caucasians…that they support the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi party?” Reichel asked Ayers, noting that “Antifa stands for anti-fascists because they are against fascism.”
“The TWP has a record of violence. They are a hate group,” instructed Reichel, acting incredulous that Ayers and/or the CHP hadn’t investigated them.
Parisi charged that the court couldn’t “invoke the statute because no evidence was introduced…there was a lack of evidence.”
In fact, Ayers did have a difficult time characterizing the TWP as Nazi sympathizers. “I don’t use that language (Nazi),” he said to repeated questions by Parisi about what he knew or didn’t know about the TWP.
“I did hear there were nine stabbings and dozens injured….anti-fascists were punched, thrown to the ground, had fractures, significant traumas…but I didn’t see it,” said Ayers, who admitted he couldn’t testify to any of the alleged crimes committed by the antifa defendants.
Parisi emphasized repeatedly that any information provided by Ayers was “hearsay” because he admitted that he couldn’t see what was happening.
“The officer could not get it (Nazi) out of his mouth. Antifa engaged in lawful and legal action against fascists who argue white supremacy and engaged in hate crimes, and that is not the way it is in this country,” said Parisi to the court.
“White supremacists brought guns and weapons to advance the goals of the white race and perpetuate violence. They gave the Hitler salute, waved weapons and officer Ayers doesn’t see anything. It’s impossible to examine him here because he only gave his interpretation of the investigation. He has an inherent bias. He was a shell of a witness,” said Parisi, adding “It is permitted for Anti-Fa to protect themselves.”
Driver also had her way with Ayers, noting that her client Yvette Felarca was half the size of Nigel Walker, who she’s accused of assaulting.
“Walker taunted my client and others, saying ‘Here I am Antifa. Come get me,’” said Driver, adding that even if Walker was assaulted, he didn’t go the hospital, so it did not reach the bar of the charge: “Great bodily injury.”
“Walker was there with a pointed stick to commit violence and to initiate a riot, brandishing a weapon and to set up Felarca,” said Driver, insisting repeatedly that there is “no showing” that her client is guilty of anything but free speech.
Deputy DA Paris Coleman was largely quiet during the examination, and in closing told the court “the people do not choose the victims. Our witness (Ayers) authenticated the videos; whether the officer is lying is not relevant.”
RECAP OF DECEMBER PRELIM: In December, on the first day of the preliminary hearing, Judge Eurie found herself more like a kindergarten cop, forced to rule on scores of objections – virtually all of them granted – on the authenticity of video and photographic evidence by the prosecution.
Ayers was on the roof of the State Capitol building the day of the riot because, as he testified, the potential for violence between counter protestors and neo Nazi groups – officially, the “Traditional Worker Party” secured a permit, but many social justice groups were expected to counter protest.
“There were a dozen or so groups, Occupy types….(with) Communist or Socialist banners,” testified Ayers, quickly labeling the left-leaning groups, although he failed to label neo Nazi and white power groups as such throughout his testimony (one of the victims even gave the Nazi salute repeatedly in video shown to the court).
But his testimony, as well as the photos and video that DDA Coleman tried to enter as evidence, set off rounds of objections by defense lawyers – the judge upheld most of the objections, which characterized his comments as “opinion…hearsay…without foundation” because Ayers admitted he really couldn’t see much of the protest from his high Capitol perch.
Defense also objected to another video showing protestors clashing on the Southside steps of the Capitol. After again admitting he could not see the protests from his vantage point, Ayers eventually identified the shooter of the video as a Capitol employee on break who shot the video with her cellphone. The judge overruled defense objections and allowed the video to be shown.
Driver, even before the proceedings began, told a rally outside the courtroom that the three defendants were the victims of a “conspiracy” between the Sacramento County District Attorney and CHP against “well known civil rights activists (trying) to stop the “Donald Trump dictatorial movement from steamrolling civil rights” in the U.S.
“The CHP did nothing (at the Capitol in 2016) to stop fascists armed and looking for a fight. Not one was arrested after at least eight stabbings…the CHP instead focused on anti-fascists counter-demonstrators,” said Driver.
And according to attorney Cruz, “Although the CHP identified every individual who had knives that day – all of whom were fascists – the CHP concluded no single one of them was ‘solely responsible’ for stabbing any one anti-racist protesters. Through this sleight of hand, the CHP and District Attorney are protecting the fascists.”
Driver noted that the CHP had recommended charging about 100 identified counter protestors with 576 crimes, even though she claimed “fascists” were armed and were responsible for the stabbings. Only one fascist participant has been arrested and faces trial in January.
“A comprehensive review of (CHP reports) reveals that the CHP recommended 576 criminal charges against 100 anti-fascist protesters, and recommended only 5 criminal charges against 5 fascists,” a 177-page motion to dismiss states, adding: “None of these charges prosecute the fascists for stabbing people on June 26, 2016…In contrast, the CHP has 100 Narratives regarding anti-racist protesters and makes requests that the District Attorney prosecute all 100 of them, recommending 576 criminal charges against them
“The arrests of Yvette Felarca, Porfirio Paz, and Michael Williams emboldened the fascists and fell weeks before Charlottesville and the murder of Heather Heyer, and there has been a surge of white racist violence. Protesting against Donald Trump and the violent fascists who have been emboldened by him to murder innocent people is not a crime; it is a necessity. The Sacramento District Attorney’s political witch-hunt must end now,” he said.
“The CHP considered it a crime simply for being at a protest against fascists,” Cruz said. “One CHP report recommends charging a protester of ‘Riot’ for holding a banner saying, ‘Anti Fascism’ and coordinating hospital support for the people who were nearly killed by fascists.”