By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – It’s been more than three years since hundreds of anti-fascist protestors and neo-Nazi white supremacists clashed at the State Capitol here in a melee that left at least seven anti-fascists stabbed and hospitalized.
It turned out to be, according to observers, the bloodiest action of its type ever at the Capitol.
But about 200 California Highway Patrol and Sacramento City Police looked on as people were stabbed and beaten, but did not interfere in a bizarre bit of “non” law enforcement.
That scenario has now morphed into a long-running courthouse drama.
Yvette Felarca, Michael Williams and Porfirio Paz – all anti-fascists and part of a counter protest to the “Traditionalist Workers Party” permitted rally – were charged with assault and/or riot charges stemming from the June 26, 2016 clash at the State Capitol, despite the fact that all of those stabbed were anti-fascists.
Woodland’s Williams, who provided security for counter-protestors and Felarca, a Berkeley schoolteacher will face felony charges at a trial setting hearing Feb. 13. Paz, who just turned 21, had his felonies reduced to simple misdemeanors because of his age and lack of criminal record
The white supremacists, who had a couple of their group bloodied by rocks, had only one member arrested – William Scott Planer, who faced felony assault charges after he knocked out a protestor with a large pole.
However, a jury deadlocked in his trial early this year. The DA was prepared to retry Planer, but he took a plea deal in April to the felony charge, and will be released July 3 with two years time-served of a four year sentence. He’s been in custody at Sacramento County Jail on $600,000 bail since July of 2017.
But meanwhile, the anti-fascists’ trial is not in sight.
Thursday, in fact, the final pre-trial conference was set ahead of a trial to start in early July. But that wasn’t to be as it turned out.
Linda Parisi, the pro bono National Lawyers Guild recruited attorney for Williams, has another trial starting in July, so the District Attorney’s Office and defense counsel for all three defendants agreed to re-set the trial for late September – nearly 40 months after the June 2016 original Capitol encounter.
The length of time this case has been stuck on calendar didn’t escape Judge Jaime R. Roman, who asked to see the full file Thursday when he heard there was yet another continuance in the case.
“I don’t want this to become another 16 year case,” he said, commenting about a case that took, he said, 16 years to come to trial. “I’m a little concerned. This case is a little dated and causes me to pause,” Roman said, while quipping that “it’s the lawyers” who set the dates.
The anti-fascists were bound over for trial earlier this year, despite an apparent lack of evidence presented at the preliminary trial, including stilted testimony by a California Highway Patrol officer – who admitted he really couldn’t see much from where he was stationed.
The decision didn’t seem to surprise anyone – the bar is very low to bind over defendants for trial after a preliminary hearing – but lawyers Parisi and another NLG-recruited attorney, Mark Reichel, representing Paz, were not happy.
“Of course. I am disappointed that (Williams) is going to face trial for his commitment against hate and violence, and the discriminatory illegal conduct of the Traditional Workers Party and Nazi,” said Parisi.
“Our clients’ lawful protests against such despicable groups are to be lauded against those representing the Nazi…we fought a world war to end their white supremacy goals,” she said, adding “Our clients are continuing in that struggle.”
Reichel said “it should never be a felony or any crime to defend yourself and others against fascists…so today is not a complete win for the white supremacists.”
Woodland’s Williams in particular charged that “they” – law enforcement and prosecutors – are “protecting the white supremacists. People were stabbed, and no one who did the stabbing was prosecuted.”
That’s been an ongoing theme for the anti-fascists defense since the defendants were charged in mid-2017, a year after the Capitol melee.
Shanta Driver, one of Felarca’s lawyers, has charged 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 (the stabbings). The CHP instead focused on anti-fascists counter-demonstrators,” said Driver.
Ron Cruz, another Felarca lawyer, claims that “The CHP identified every individual who had knives that day – all were fascists. The CHP concluded no single one of them was ‘solely responsible’ for stabbing any one anti-racist protester. Through this sleight of hand, the CHP and District Attorney are protecting the fascists.”
The lawyers said a “comprehensive review of (CHP reports) reveals that the CHP recommended 576 criminal charges against 100 anti-fascist protesters, and recommended only five criminal charges against five fascists,” according to a 177-page motion to dismiss stated, adding: “None of these charges prosecute the fascists for stabbing people” in June 2016.
“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,” said Cruz.
“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.”
The DA, at the preliminary trial, presented only one witness – CHP officer Donovan Ayers – to support its case last week.
But 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.
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. 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.
“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.”
“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.