Reflections of a Vanguard Intern: Zachary RunningWolf Brown and Going Pro Se

ALAMEDA, CA – This week I sat in on Department 7’s hearings in Alameda County Superior Court. Or, I should say hearing singular, as I only heard one case.


After joining the René C. Davidson Courthouse audio stream late, I was immediately thrust into the middle of a rant by the defendant, Zachary RunningWolf Brown. He was arguing about the incident that caused his probation to be revoked; that is, him walking past a synagogue he was court ordered to stay 100 yards away from.


In his spiel, Brown pointed many fingers, towards the jail he was kept in, the synagogue in question, and even the Catholic Church. He kept arguing that the conviction for which he was initially put on probation for needed to be appealed.


He claimed to not have an anti-Semitic bone in his body, and that his real issues were with the Catholic Church, and that was why he graffitied swastikas on Temple Sinai back in October.


During the proceedings I was amazed at the patience demonstrated by both Deputy District Attorney Erin Kingsbury and Judge Delia Trevino when dealing with RunningWolf Brown. Several times Judge Trevino had to gently push Brown back on topic, and reminded him twice to wear his mask properly, a detail I couldn’t catch since I was only on the audio stream.


I also felt for the members of Temple Sinai who had their synagogue vandalized, an action Brown fully admitted to doing. Kingsbury mentioned the temple goers’ fear of Brown as a reason to place him back into a year’s custody.


I felt torn with my opinion on Brown. He spoke on how traumatized being arrested made him feel, and how difficult he found his six months in prison. However, he repeatedly refused to own up to his hate-crimes against a Jewish community, and repeatedly stated how afraid he was of them.


Nineteen years ago Brown was covered in SF Gate for his fundraiser for the Seventh Generation Fund, a Native American organization, where he discussed discovering his native roots and conquering alcoholism. Now, when searching Brown’s name, his more fraught political career and run-ins with the law come up first.


He’s tried running for mayor of Berkeley twice, losing both times to current mayor, Jesse Arreguín. After death threats towards Arreguín were posted on Brown’s twitter, the city of Berkeley took out a restraining order against him in 2019.


In the last three cases the Vanguard has covered involving Brown, he has self-represented in all of them, a move I am not sure is working out well for him. Each time he has essentially talked himself into a corner, and gotten angry at the court.


Pro se, or self-representation, has always been a protected right in America, ever since President Washington signed the Judiciary Act of 1789, but it’s hard to find statistics of whether it helps or hinders in criminal hearings.


During his hearing, Brown got off topic, started questioning the DDA during his own testimony, and was confused on the maximum amount of days he could spend in custody. All incidents that might have been prevented if an actual defense lawyer was present.


In truth, it seemed like Brown’s rants made DDA Kingsbury’s job easier, as she didn’t choose to add rebuttal after Brown’s long winded closing argument.


I understand the need for pro se to be legally available to everyone, but wonder if it doesn’t end up with some defendants digging themselves into a deeper hole.

About The Author

Savannah Dewberry is a third-year student at the University of San Francisco studying media and journalism.

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  1. Ron Glick

    What is the saying? A client that represents himself is an attorney that has a fool for a client.

    When I read about this guy in court I wondered about his mental competency.

    1. Bill Marshall

       A client that represents himself is an attorney that has a fool for a client.

      Dad did not opine on that directly… but he did tell me (after serving on several juries), that if he was accused of a crime, hauled into court:  if he knew he was innocent, would waive rights and ask for a “bench trial”; if guilty, would demand a jury trial.

      Serving on several juries myself, I realize he was likely correct.  And wise.

      On the topic of ‘trials’, I opine that juries either find that the defendant is “guilty” (charges ‘proven’), or render the verdict, “charges not proven”… ‘not guilty’ is oft construed as ‘factually innocent’, which is generally not the case… while it troubles me greatly where someone is ‘found guilty’, and turns out that they were factually innocent, it also greatly troubles me when someone is found “not guilty” (to most, found “innocent”) when they, sure as [anything] actually did the deed, or were very culpable…

      Ex.:  who believes OJ, was “factually innocent” in the deaths of his wife and Goldman?  [for those that do, I have a great structure connecting two boroughs in NYC, on sale, this week only!]

      Like Capone, OJ only served time for much more trivial offenses than they actually committed… ironically, Capone got the ‘death penalty’ for a non-chargeable ‘crime’… OJ was smarter… he used a condom… it “fit”…

  2. Alan Miller

    This is such a sad case.  There is clearly mental illness, and his anger and threats make him a potential danger to others — maybe.  I’m not so concerned about the so-called ‘hate crimes’ as much as if his anger towards Jews or politicians or anyone else he puts in his sites could lead to violence.  Is he violent or just an unstable blow-hard?

    Colorful?  Maybe . . . but more so SCARY to those on the other end of his unstable mental outbursts into society.

      1. Bill Marshall

         is limited to threats and outbursts and vandalism rather than actual violence

        Really?  ‘Threats, outbursts, vandalism’ should be ignored until someone is seriously physically injured/killed?  Vandalism is a form of property/economic ‘violence’…

        I assume you are against “bullying”… yet ‘bullies’ seldom do actual ‘violence’ (most are inherently cowards)… yet they make threats, display outbursts, and on-line they ‘vandalize’ folks’ reputations.

        Yet, ….

  3. Rick Entrikin

    First, kudos to the author.  This is truly one of the most poignant, yet balanced and professional, examples of journalism I’ve ever read on The Vanguard.   The story was captivating and thought-provoking, from beginning to end.

    Second, this case makes me wonder whether there are attempts afoot to reform the court system in a way that would both aid Mr. RunningWolf Brown and protect his potential victims.   I’m not a mental health expert, but it appears that the plaintiff is mentally unstable, quite likely paranoid and/or delusional and perhaps even paranoid schizophrenic.

    It also appears that his mental issues have progressed over the years.   So the observation that his  “…history is limited to threats….rather than actual violence” offers little assurance that he will not exhibit violent behavior upon release.  In fact, it seems that, in many cases of horrific violence attributed to “mental illness,” that earlier “warning signs” were excused or simply ignored.

    The current case might be a poor example, but it makes me wonder what can be done to re-direct such individuals to meaningful mental health care, and hopefully rehabilitation, rather than a dead-end prison sentence.   On the other hand, I believe  such an individual must be confined or closely-supervised until treatment makes it safe for both him/her and the general public.  Yes, I realize this might sound akin to proposed legislation to offer mandatory treatment of  substance abuse, in lieu of a prison term, and it might not be a perfect solution.  But Mr. RunningWolf Brown needs help – and his potential victims deserve protection.   A revolving door is not a solution.

    1. Alan Miller

      First, kudos to the author.  This is truly one of the most poignant, yet balanced and professional, examples of journalism I’ve ever read on The Vanguard.

      Agreed!    Speaking of which, what even happened to Jacob Derin?  Does he have a blog of his own?  Is he working for the LA Times yet?

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