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Thursday, April 26, 2012
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Judge Paul Burdick dismisses charges against four defendants accused in 75 River Street Occupation
SANTA CRUZ - A judge has dismissed the charges against four of the 11 people charged in connection with the takeover of a former bank last year.
Judge Paul Burdick said Wednesday that evidence was lacking to hold Franklin Alcantara, Grant Wilson, Edward Rector and Cameron Laurendau on charges of felony conspiracy, felony vandalism and misdemeanor trespass.
The four were charged in connection with the takeover of a vacant Wells Fargo bank on River Street in late November and early December. In that case, a number of people, acting anonymously but in solidarity with Occupy Santa Cruz, entered the building at 75 River St. and remained there for nearly 72 hours before leaving peacefully after numerous police negotiations. The group said they wanted to turn the empty building into a community center.
"There's no evidence to establish that any of these four defendants knew someone who later committed trespass intended to do so," Burdick said to Assistant District Attorney Rebekah Young. "You're painting with too broad a brush." Young said she was relying on an aiding and abetting theory in prosecuting the case, but Burdick said there hadn't been sufficient evidence shown.
Still, he said, "I'm not condoning the conduct that occurred at 75 River St."
Jamyrson Pittori, the attorney who represented Rector, said her client was "a curious kid" who'd been drawn to the occupied building by the crowd, and wasn't a criminal. She agreed with Burdick's assessment that the prosecution was painting with too broad a brush.
"The costs to the taxpayers for prosecution of this case far exceeds the damages sustained by Wells Fargo," said Pittori. "Property crimes are bad, but attempting to prosecute more than 100 people, most of whom had nothing to do with it, is unconscionable."
Rector, Laurendau, Wilson and Alcantara hugged friends and family outside the courtroom, while supporters congratulated them on the dismissal.
Two other defendants, Bradley Allen and Alex Darocy, face trial next month on charges of trespassing and conspiracy. Their attorneys argue that their clients are photojournalists who were acting in that capacity at the time. A preliminary hearing is still pending for the other five defendants.
Young said Wednesday she plans to refile charges against Laurendau and Alcantara.
Follow Sentinel reporter Jessica M. Pasko on Twitter @jmpasko96