By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – A surprise first witness opened the first day of testimony in the trial of white supremacist William Planer here in Sacramento County Superior Court Thursday – Alice Summers was introduced to the courtroom as the victim in a vicious assault, allegedly at the hands of Planer during a State Capitol brawl in June 2016 between the neo-Nazi white nationalist Traditional Workers Party, and anti-fascists groups.
What she described – and shaky, grainy video vividly showed – was her being struck from behind by a masked TWP supporter with a pole that slammed her to the ground motionless and unconscious as her comrades dragged her to safety.
Planer – stoically staring straight ahead during Summers’ nearly two-hour testimony – faces felony assault charges; he’s already spent about one and one-half years in Sacramento County Jail awaiting trial.
It has been a long time getting to this point. Lawyers battled for days last week and this week through motions to limit testimony and evidence. There was also two days of jury selection, marked by many potential jurors on the panel telling the judge they could not serve on the jury after it was revealed Planer was a white supremacist. As a result, all but three jurors are Caucasian.
Earlier in the week, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Stacy Boulware Eurie warned all counsel not to use “inflammatory” terms, and stated “we’re not here to litigate these (opposing) groups,” adding “I’m going to let this play out in real time, because trials are fluid. But we are not going to try this as the riot of the day.”
In the fight nearly three years ago, seven of the counter protestors were seriously injured and hospitalized –Summers was one of them, and dozens injured after TWP members used knives, sticks , poles and broken bottles and spears to attack them. Several TWP members were also injured.
Before Summers took the stand Thursday, Deputy District Attorney Casey Sinclair told the jury in a very short opening argument that “You will see that a clash occurs, violence ensues on all sides” at the State Capitol in June when the TWP and counter protestors met.
“You will see video of Mr. Planer as he hits her on the head with a club, she falls unconscious and is pulled away and later goes to the hospital,” said Sinclair, who showed the jury a 31-second clip of the melee.
But Planer defense attorney Matt Martinez countered by noting that “300 counter protestors were there to greet about 20 TWP members, who didn’t bring weapons. But their counterparts did. And they attacked…it will be abundantly clear that Mr. Planer used a weapon used it against him…it is a clear defense of self, and others and necessity.”
Summers, who admitted she wasn’t clear about some details of that day after being bashed in the head, identified photos of herself at the Capitol as wearing a dark mask, pink gloves and a stabproof vest.
She explains how she was knocked to the ground when both groups met on the south side of the Capitol – she called it the “unguarded side” because CHP officers weren’t visible. She said she didn’t charge the TWP members – as defense lawyers suggested – but walked from the northwest side of the Capitol to the south side.
“But as I was getting to my feet on my knees, someone hit me so hard I couldn’t see, or breathe. I didn’t even feel pain,” said Summers, who added she knew she lost consciousness because the next thing she remembered was being at a different spot on the South Capitol lawn.
“(Then) I began to feel pain and I was able to fill my lungs,” said Summers who “staggered” to her car and drove herself to the hospital. She thinks. “I know there was a hole in my face, my chin and I was leaking blood. I had trouble opening my mouth and have had memory loss,” she added.
On cross by defense attorney Martinez, witness/victim Summers repeatedly was asked if she was part of group, and who else was she with, did they bring weapons, banners, and other protest paraphernalia.
But Summers said she didn’t know many people, and that “every stick I knew about was confiscated” by police, even poles to hold banners.
Martinez pushed her, asking “You were anticipating getting stabbed…being in a fight, isn’t that true?”
Summers answered that she was “prepared but obviously not well enough. I was protesting violence…because I feel…this group (the TWP) is a personal, violent threat.” She didn’t deny she wanted to stop the TWP from “delivering their message” as Martinez suggested.
“I remember walking over (to where the TWP was gathering on the South side of the Capitol)….they (TWP) had those long poles that police would’t let us have,” and then added she didn’t “remember much after that.”
DDA Paris Coleman finished the questioning, and elicited a reply from Summers that she was not carrying a flagpole, or a stick or other weapon.
Summers is subject to recall, and Planer’s defense team declared they would call her to the stand again.
NOTES. Before opening arguments, and out of earshot of the jury, opposing counsel argued how far examination of Summers should go. Jem Martin, another defense attorney, wanted all of it to be “fair game,” but Sinclair and Coleman said they would not accept a “fishing expedition. The judge said she would allow “general” questions because “the trial is about context not events of the day. (But) A fishing expedition will not be allowed.”
In an unusual move, the court appointed an attorney to represent Summers. She does not have an immunity agreement with the prosecution, and the attorney was there to, in effect, protect her rights against self-incrimination.