Three Year Old Case Started With a “Bloody” Capitol Clash with White Supremacists
By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – At about 10:26 a.m. Thursday, a very, very slow march toward justice ended.
Nearly three and one-half years after a protest that led to three anti-fascist demonstrators charged with multiple felony counts, including riot and assault with a deadly weapon, the Sacramento County District Attorney office made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.
In short, the DA office threw in the proverbial towel.
On the day of their trial, Mike Williams of Woodland, Yvette Felarca of the Bay Area and Porfirio Paz of Long Beach pleaded no-contest Thursday to minor misdemeanor charges of “unlawful assembly” – and that charge will be completely dismissed in 18 months or less if they simply do community work with a local non-profit group. They also can’t attend any “protest” at the State Capitol for up to 18 months.
Not bad for the trio, who had faced years in prison for counter-protesting neo-Nazi, white supremacists at the State Capitol in June of 2016.
Their much-delayed trial was due to begin Thursday, months after the only white supremacist charged, William Scott Planer, was released after serving two years of a four-year sentence for felony use of a deadly weapon when he clubbed an ant-fascist protestor who was already on the ground..
Shanta Driver, one of Felarca’s lawyers, said it was a clear court victory. The other lawyers, Linda Parisi, who represented Williams, and Mark Reichel, Paz’ attorney, agreed. Parisi and Reichel were brought in the case by the National Lawyers Guild of Sacramento.
“This is a real victory for the movement. It was extremely important to keep all three defendants together. That helped get us this very good resolution,” Driver said.
“We could have won if we went to trial. But with this settlement it keeps everyone safe with no possible jail time. And no one believes this is a victory for the DA or the fascists,” she added.
Felarka told about 40 supporters outside the courthouse that “we have to keep building this (anti-fascist) movement. If we all work, we can fight, and we can win.”
In June 2016, with more than 150 California Highway Patrol and Sacramento city police officers looking on, hundreds of anti-fascist protestors and less than 20 neo-Nazi white supremacists clashed head-on with sticks, clubs and knives. A handgun was found later in the bushes.
After the tear gas and pepper spray cleared, at least seven anti-fascists had been stabbed and hospitalized, and a couple of right-wing participants walked away with bloody head wounds.
The highly-anticipated trial was to be a wrap of what has been described as the bloodiest protest ever at the State Capitol.
But Thursday, deputy district attorney Paris Coleman – who also co-prosecuted the neo Nazi defendant more than a year ago, had no official comment. He said he had “personal views” but would not express them to the Vanguard, when asked.
Felarca, Williams and Paz – all anti-fascists and part of a counter-protest to the “Traditionalist Workers Party” permitted rally – originally pleaded not guilty and were expected to claim self-defense and defense of others.
On that very hot June day, the California Highway Patrol and Sacramento city police officers – more than 150 were staged in riot gear around the Capitol – simply looked on as people were stabbed and beaten, but did not interfere in a bizarre bit of “non” law enforcement.
Woodland’s Williams, who provided security for counter-protestors and Felarca, a Berkeley schoolteacher and Paz were picked by the DA to be charged, although the CHP originally said more than hundred people there that day could have been charged.
But despite speculation that a plea deal may be in the works, Williams’ attorney, Linda Parisi, said the anti-Nazi demonstrators were looking forward to presenting their case to a jury.
“At trial we will open everyone’s eyes about the growing fascist threat in this country, and the courage of our clients,” said Parisi earlier in the case.
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 earlier in 2019 – but lawyers Parisi and Reichel 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 at the time.
“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.”
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.
Defense attorney Driver 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. Parisi called Ayers a liar. Reichel agreed, 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, apparently 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.