Self-Representing Defendant Argues Wrongful Conviction in Case of Alleged Anti-Semitic Hate Crime

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By Nadia Kazempoor  

OAKLAND, CA – Defendant and former mayoral candidate Zachary RunningWolf Brown argued in Davidson Courthouse last Friday at his sentencing that, though he was wrongfully convicted for hate crime and vandalism charges in October against Temple Sinai in Oakland, he accepts the conviction and wishes to move on. 

When asked to deliver his concluding statement to the courtroom, Brown—representing himself in court—chose to use his time to assert, “I realize that I have been convicted, wrongfully… It is six months of my life that you’ve ruined.”

In this statement, Brown provided an interesting, yet at times contrasting view of his conviction. He made it clear that he viewed the conviction as wrongful and destructive to his life, yet he made sure to mention early on that he accepts his conviction, nonetheless.

Some may argue that it is simply an attempt to appease the court by accepting his conviction despite its wrongfulness. 

However, this seems unlikely, as Brown is notorious for being outspoken in the courtroom and in the general community, and therefore does not seem to possess a care for the court’s opinion of himself.  

Brown found it further prudent to clarify, “I ask the court not for leniency. Because this is ridiculous and we all know this is ridiculous.”

Though the defendant remained firm in his beliefs of his wrongful conviction and the failures of the court system, he was unable to provide the court with the necessary witness names or documents to conclude his sentencing. 

Judge Delia Trevino made it clear, “This is where you need the advice of an attorney. I’m not able to help you understand legally what you’re giving up and what you’re gaining in this process”

Choosing to represent himself in court, a move that Brown has employed during multiple of his hearings, there was a brief but telling moment of high tension in the courtroom when Brown realized he was not able to be released from Santa Rita Jail today, due to his lack of preparation. 

Brown attempted to excuse his lack of necessary material as a result of COVID restrictions, though Judge Trevino quickly shut down his statement and moved forward with the hearing. 

It is vital to note that, throughout the entirety of Friday’s hearing, as well as previous hearings dating back years in Brown’s many run-ins with law enforcement as a result of his self-proclaimed activism, he has expressed a large mistrust and dislike of Berkeley’s local government and law enforcement.

As such, Brown attempted to alleviate his general distaste for local government in both 2016 and 2020 when he ran for Mayor of Berkeley. In 2016, he lost the election to current Mayor Jesse Arreguín, leading to a long-term and rather public debacle between the two.

In 2019, the tensions rose to an unsurmountable level as the city of Berkeley filed and was granted a restraining order against Brown, on behalf of Mayor Arreguín. With credible death threats found on RunningWolf’s Twitter account, as well as multiple verbal threats and confrontations recorded, the city found it necessary to take action. 

Brown brought up his prior political aspirations when shouting to the courtroom, “I am deeply ashamed by this whole proceeding. I am a mayoral candidate… The people of Berkeley want me in that position.”

Though Brown lost the mayoral election by a significant margin, the fact remains that Brown identifies—and is seen by certain local groups—as a community activist and leader, most notably as a native elder of the Ohlone tribe. 

Brown’s case, whether a wrongful conviction on the part of the court, or a refusal to accept guilt and responsibility on the behalf of the defendant, proves to be a difficult situation for the court deal with, especially when acknowledging the pre-existing sense of mistrust common between local government and members of marginalized groups that identify as community activists. 

As a case dealing with hate crime and vandalism charges against Temple Sinai in Oakland, stakes were quite high in the sense that the jury, as well as the community, wished to see justice for the act of anti-Semitism committed. 

A victim impact statement was provided by Senior Rabbi Jacqeline Mates-Muchin from the Temple Sinai. Regarding the statement, Brown admitted, “I haven’t had time to look at it.”

The defendant’s decision to reveal that he failed, or refused, to read the witness testimony for the crime he was charged with, allowed the courtroom audience to assume that he was not guilty for the pain and hurt he caused to the Jewish community, and more specifically to Temple Sinai.  

Brown was quick to exclaim that “the Jewish community does support me.” 

Ultimately, the defendant was granted two years of probation, hefty fines, and is to be released from custody this upcoming Monday. It is still unclear whether RunningWolf was actually wrongfully convicted, or if this was an excuse on his part to be released from jail earlier than the jury desired. 

Nadia Kazempoor is a court watch reporter for The Vanguard at Berkeley. She is a freshman Political Science student at Cal, originally from Huntington Beach, CA.


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8 thoughts on “Self-Representing Defendant Argues Wrongful Conviction in Case of Alleged Anti-Semitic Hate Crime”

  1. Alan Miller

    Well I had to read this because the title picture says “Ohlone Land”, yet the headline is about antisemitism.  WTF?

    So I read the article, and it isn’t until the 17th paragraph that a link is given that may provide a clue as to the details of the crime so I can consider if this was maybe a hate crime, but the link is only the decision – no details.  Then this:

    The defendant’s decision to reveal that he failed, or refused, to read the witness testimony for the crime he was charged with, allowed the courtroom audience to assume that he was not guilty for the pain and hurt he caused to the Jewish community, and more specifically to Temple Sinai.  

    Run that by me again?  He acted without a lawyer, failed or refused to read the witness statement, so this allowed the court audience to assume he was not guilty?  Was the entire audience wearing shirts with the same color — brown, perhaps?  But seriously, what kind of logic is that?  EG, you out there?  Help me make sense of how failure to read a legal document gains you the assumption that you are not guilty, and the judgement is by the courtroom audience?  Am I out the looking glass and into bizzaroworld here?

    Brown was quick to exclaim that “the Jewish community does support me.” 

    His name is Brown.  Perfect.

    And his failure lead him to exlaim . . .???  . . .  oh, forget it.

    It is still unclear whether RunningWolf was actually wrongfully convicted, or if this was an excuse on his part to be released from jail earlier than the jury desired.

    Now he’s going by RunningWolf.  What exactly was an excuse to be released from jailed early?  Failure?

    And again, what did he do?  If someone commits a hate crime, I’d like to know the details of the crime.  I’m not even sure I believe in hate crime enhancements, especially without some real solid evidence the person is a major hater with a pattern of hating a particular group or groups, or affiliated with white supremacy groups or the like.  Someone drunkenly yelling out a derogatory term while doing something stupid shouldn’t be a hate crime.  But I don’t know any details after reading this.  It’s just an article about someone’s behavior in a courtroom.

    1. Eric Gelber

      There’s an old adage that says, “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” The same goes for former mayoral candidates.

      1. Alan Miller

        But if I read this correctly as written (and I probably didn’t), he failed to read a document, and that led the courtroom audience to judge that he was not guilty.   In what way was he punished?  What did he even do?

    2. Koda Slingluff Post author

      Hi there- the defendant Zachary RunningWolf Brown is well-known in the area for his variety activism-related stunts. The photo is from 2006, when he occupied an oak tree in Oakland. Like stated in the first sentence, he was charged with vandalizing Temple Sinai back in October. I do not believe that the author wished to highlight the vandalism itself, but since you are curious, it was a black swastika painted on the doors of the synagogue.

      As for the statement which was confusing to you, it is explaining the public opinion of the court room as a whole. Like I mentioned this is a known figure in the community, so public perception was indeed also a factor worth noting. RunningWolf Brown chose to tell the room that he would not even read the witness testimony. In turn, our writer noted that he did not come off as feeling guilty for the pain and hurt of the community.

       

       

        1. Alan Miller

          Cool.  Thanks both KS & DG!  I will read the Berkeleyside article.  As for:

          it was a black swastika painted on the doors of the synagogue.

          That’s pretty bad, and that I would call a hate crime under most any circumstance.

          I am not sure the importance of the impression of the court audience as it pertains to his sentencing, but I do understand that was how the audience perceived things.

           

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