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DA may drop charges against UC protesters

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet staff
Tuesday June 04, 2002

The Alameda County District Attorney has offered to drop charges against the 78 pro-Palestinian activists who occupied UC Berkeley’s Wheeler Hall April 9, the Planet has learned. 

“I think it’s a real vindication,” said Linda Sherif, a member of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and lawyer for the protesters. “It was a peaceful political demonstration and charges shouldn’t have been filed in the first place.” 

“It just seemed fair given what was involved and their records and the message they were trying to send,” said, Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Stuart Hing, about the offer. 

The defendants could accept the offer as early as Friday, during a court appearance at the Oakland branch of the Alameda County Superior Court. 

All 78 defendants currently face charges of obstructing or intimidating an employee of a public agency.  

Seven defendants also face charges of resisting arrest and 23 year-old student Roberto Hernandez is accused of misdemeanor assault and battery for allegedly biting a UC Berkeley police officer. 

The District Attorney has offered to drop all charges and issue an official “factual finding of innocence” for each defendant, requiring that all arrest records are sealed. 

“I’m pleased with the offer that’s been made,” said defendants’ attorney Seth Chazin. 

Chazin said lawyers have not yet contacted all the activists to confirm their acceptance of the District Attorney’s offer. But Hoang Phan, a leader of Students for Justice in Palestine, the campus group that spearheaded the April 9 takeover, said the defendants will likely agree to the proposal. 

If they accept the offer, most defendants will have to pay court fees of $25 or $50, with Hernandez shelling out $750. Chazin said the fees are simply administrative payments. But Hing said the fees qualify as fines. 

Activists took over Wheeler Hall April 9 after a full day of protest, calling on the University of California to divest from Israel. Protesters chanted slogans for hours before UC Berkeley police ordered them to leave. When the activists refused to disperse, campus police arrested them one-by-one, dragging some of them away. 

After arraignment at the Berkeley branch of the Superior Court April 30, Judge Carol Brosnahan transferred the case to Oakland. The District Attorney’s Oakland office offered to drop the charges after a May 29 court date, according to Sherif. 

“It’s a really big legal victory,” said Phan, the SJP leader. “It’s also a really big political victory.” 

But Phan noted that the 41 students involved in the occupation still face possible disciplinary action, including suspension, from the university. 

“We’ve won the criminal charges, but the student conduct charges we take very seriously,” he said, noting that SJP will fight any disciplinary action. 

UC Berkeley spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said the university will send letters to the students this week notifying them of the charges they will face. She said it will then be up to the students to settle the matter in an informal meeting with staff or go to a hearing. 

Gilmore declined to comment on the offer to drop criminal charges until receiving direct confirmation of that offer from the District Attorney. 

City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has been a vocal critic of the university and supporter of the students, said he was not surprised by the District Attorney’s offer. 

“I’ve been expecting it, because when you look at the police report, it is virtually unimaginable that they could be convicted,” said Worthington. “Any fair-minded District Attorney would probably come to the conclusion it’s not worth the enormous expense and staff time (to prosecute).”