Suspected BLM vandals face preliminary hearing – and Santa Cruz community activists are watching
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Thursday for the two men accused of leaving skid marks on the Black Lives Matter mural painted on Center Street outside Santa Cruz City Hall in July.
The two men, Brandon Bochat, 20, of Santa Cruz, and Hagan Warner, 19, of Boulder Creek, were arrested days later, and each faces a charge of vandalism and a count of intent to committing a hate crime.
Thursday morning’s hearing was delayed from an earlier date of September 20.
Bernie Escalante, deputy chief of the Santa Cruz Police Department, said he expects a plea deal to be reached soon.
“The evidence is strong and I am confident in the evidence gathered and the work that has been done,” he said, adding that defendants who oppose the evidence would further damage their public image. “The defendants don’t have much defense.”
Escalante said he didn’t know what the likely consequences would be and that there was a lot to consider.
Community activists see it as an opportunity to promote and implement restorative justice, which they hope will see Bochat and Warner help repaint the mural.
Thomas Sage Pedersen, host of the “Speak for Change” podcast and co-founder of the Black Kings of Santa Cruz County, believes this approach is imperative if the community is to move forward.
“We are really pushing for a restorative justice model,” he said, adding that the punitive measures were inadequate. “Something that enables individuals to repair damage not only to the mural, but to the community. “
Pedersen, a member of the racial justice initiative SC Equity Collab and someone who spoke out when the community gathered two days after the act, recalled that the mural was not just a performative gesture , but a community funded project.
“It was never specifically about the mural, but what it represented,” he said. “Destroying it is not just damaging paint on the floor. I think a lot of people have to get this into their heads. “
Additionally, Pedersen said he hopes the Santa Cruz community as a whole will take this incident seriously and recognize its importance.
“It’s not just vandalism – it’s an attack on the community and it’s not OK,” he said. “Hopefully the judge feels the same.”
Bochat and Warner both face felony charges for the first time; whether they will be convicted of a hate crime remains a key question.
In June, California Attorney General Rob Bonta published new guidelines and resources to help both the public and law enforcement better understand and tackle hate crimes. This includes new guidance for prosecutors on the best ways to tackle hate crimes.
Under California law, a hate crime is defined as “a criminal act committed, in whole or in part, because of one or more of the following elements: disability, sex, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation; or due to the person’s association with a person or group exhibiting one or more of these actual perceived characteristics.
At trial, the prosecution should establish that Bochat and Warner were intended to forcibly interfere with or intimidate a person or group in the exercise of their civil rights, because of the “real or perceived protected characteristics” of that person or group.
Regardless of the outcome of this particular case, Pedersen said he and the rest of the SC Equity Collab will continue to fight for a better future and urge others to do the same, no matter how difficult the task.
“We have to change the culture of our community to value diversity and that means doing uncomfortable things,” Pedersen said. “There is really a lot of work to be done. “