Thursday, July 16, 2015

Resolution Reached for 75 River Street Occupation Defendants

Three of the four remaining Santa Cruz Eleven defendants resolved their legal cases in Santa Cruz Superior Court today. Gabriella Ripley-Phipps and Brent Adams were present in court and pleaded "no contest" to one misdemeanor count each of trespass in association with the 2011 occupation of the vacant bank building located at 75 River Street. A no contest plea was also entered by his attorney for Franklin Alcantara, who was not present at the hearing. In exchange for the plea, the felony vandalism charge the defendants still faced has been dismissed, and a fixed restitution amount has been set at $1500 per person. The remaining defendant Cameron Laurendau and his attorney were not present in court today, and at the time of the hearing his case was still scheduled on the court calendar with a trial date of July 27.

Gabriella Ripley-Phipps after the hearing.

The large, empty bank building, which had been leased and left vacant in downtown Santa Cruz for years by Wells Fargo, was occupied during the height of the national Occupy Wall Street movement in November and December of 2011. At that time hundreds of people entered and exited the bank, and some damage occurred to the building. Supporters of the occupation had hoped to turn 75 River into a community center that would provide free services to low-income individuals, but ultimately the group decided to end their stay after three days.

A police investigation into the occupation was initiated, and charges were eventually filed against eleven individuals (including this reporter) in February of 2012. All eleven of the defendants were charged with multiple counts, including felony conspiracy to commit vandalism and/or trespass, felony vandalism, misdemeanor trespass by entering and occupying, and misdemeanor trespass by refusing to leave private property. There was no evidence presented in court that any of those charged had committed the vandalism, but they were still being held responsible for the damage that had occurred to the building, and the group became known as the Santa Cruz Eleven.

By 2013, the charges were completely dismissed in court against all but four of the defendants due to lack of evidence. One of the felony charges, conspiracy, was dismissed for the remaining four, but their trial date was formalized to begin during March of that year. At that time, the District Attorney's office was seeking a restitution amount of $20,000, which is partly why the case languished on for so long.

As part of today's agreement, Alcantara, Adams, and Ripley-Phipps will be on formal probation for 18 months, or until they pay their restitution amount in full. The money will go to Wells Fargo Bank.

They have also agreed to each serve 100 hours of community service, in addition to staying away from 75 River Street.

About three dozen community supporters were present in the court room when the defendants resolved the case.

Brent Adams after the hearing.

Adams and Ripley-Phipps hug after three and a half years of fighting the charges together.

Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs served food to supporters in front of the court house.

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