At a preliminary hearing now set to span almost two months, Sacramento prosecutors have played a video appearing to show Berkeley teacher Yvette Felarca attacking a demonstrator at a neo-Nazi rally in 2016, while her lawyers have argued the video could be “doctored.”
The King Middle School teacher, and co-defendants Porfirio Paz and Michael Williams, are facing felony assault charges stemming from a permitted white-supremacist rally and counter-protest at the State Capitol in June 2016. Their attorneys have repeatedly argued that the charges constitute a “witch hunt” against the anti-fascist counter-protesters.
The latest of two motions the defense has filed to dismiss the case shows the California Highway Patrol recommended charges against 100 counter-protesters and only five people from the Golden State Skinheads and Traditionalist Worker Party, despite stabbing wounds sustained by anti-fascists and photos showing neo-Nazi demonstrators with knives. (One suspected neo-Nazi, William Planer, has been charged.)
In the motion, lawyers argue that the charges brought against their clients were politically motivated, pointing to police documents that included information on Felarca and her co-defendants’ past political activities and affiliations.
A Sacramento judge declined to dismiss the case once before, in May, saying the defendants had not proven they were unfairly targeted.
A preliminary hearing for the case, where Judge Stacy Eurie Boulware will decide whether to send it to trial, began Dec. 6. The hearing was scheduled to continue Dec. 18, but Felarca’s Michigan-based lawyer Shanta Driver has the flu, the defense said, so it was continued to Jan. 22.
In the meantime, the defense is likely to file a third motion to dismiss the case, Felarca told Berkeleyside in the Sacramento courthouse Tuesday.
“We’re continuing to look for ways to have this incredibly illegal case dismissed,” attorney Mark Reichel, who is representing another defendant, told Berkeleyside.
The DA is “selectively prosecuting people that fought fascists,” Reichel said. “We used to call them heroes in World War II.”
Speaking amongst themselves outside the courtroom, the defense attorneys indicated they would file a new dismissal motion that argues the case violates due process because it is politically motivated. If they instead continued on the same path to a trial, “Our bodies will get buried in that courtroom, if you ask me,” said attorney Linda Parisi to some of her colleagues and clients. This reporter, who has previously identified herself to several of the lawyers and defendants, was sitting nearby during the discussion. Other observers were also gathered in the hallway.
While the court appearance Tuesday was brief, about 15 to 20 energetic supporters of Felarca packed into the courtroom for the first hearing date on Dec. 6.
During that hearing, Paris Coleman, from the DA’s office, interviewed California Highway Patrol Officer Donovan Ayres. Ayres was stationed on the roof of the Capitol during the 2016 rally, part of a tactical team observing the events, and conducted the investigation afterward.
“There was so much information on the potential for violence” leading up to the rally, Ayres said in court. Social media posts and fliers posted in downtown Sacramento indicated counter-protesters would come, some with weapons, he said.
One of the groups Ayres monitored based on that information was By Any Means Necessary, the national radical organization in which Felarca is active.
The morning of the rally, Ayres could only see anti-fascist counter-protesters, none of the neo-Nazis, from the roof, he said. Initially, there were no conflicts, but “eventually the day turned into several different violent confrontations.”
Ayres said he observed Nigel Walker, who Felarca is charged with assaulting, approaching the group of counter-protesters. Ayres did not know Walker at the time, he said, but recognized that he was on the side of the permitted rally because he carried a flag with a “symbol I recognized as not antifa. A white power, white nationalist symbol.”
Walker “was by himself — that was a concern,” Ayres said. “The crowd was getting worked up, and he was likely not going to be welcomed.”
Ayres said he “whistled down” to Walker to try to warn him, but the demonstrator kept approaching. “He began waving his flag and shouting, ‘Antifa, here I am,’ calling attention to himself,” Ayres recalled.
Some people in the courtroom laughed aloud at Ayres’ description. Before and throughout the hearing, the bailiff and judge repeatedly told the group to quiet down.
Ayres said part of the alleged assault was out of his sight but said the video that surfaced of the incident shows it occurred right after the events he witnessed.
A segment of the video was played in the courtroom. The portion that was played shows a man standing on a street corner, holding a flagpole and wearing a hat, when Felarca approaches with another man. She pushes her body into the demonstrator and pulls on his backpack and flagpole. The demonstrator gets dragged on the ground by another person while others kick him. Felarca is shown following the group until a police officer appears to push her to the ground.
Although it was not shown in court, another video that has made the rounds (see below) shows Felarca giving an interview at the scene later that day, wearing a bandage over a bloody head wound, and saying that violence can be a necessary response to fascism.
Throughout the hearing, Parisi repeatedly objected to the prosecutor’s and Ayres’ statements and questions, saying they were hearsay or subjective interpretations of videos and photos, not firsthand accounts. The judge sustained many of her objections, striking much of the record, but said other pieces were admissible as evidence.
Coleman protested: “We’re not talking about, ‘I heard it from another person.’ A video cannot be hearsay.”
The following includes clips of the video clip shown in court, as well as other videos not included in the case.
The defense also argued that the video could just show part of the story, or could have been falsified.
“The video comes from either YouTube or social media,” Reichel said. “That’s the concerns we have, in terms of editing and authentification.”
The judge agreed that she was “concerned about the authentification of the video.”
Coleman also showed a video clip that he said depicted Paz and Williams attacking demonstrators with sticks, in the middle of a larger melée.
Ayres said he did not witness the incident himself but said the makeshift weapons were two-by-two wooden sticks with lag bolts on the end.
“I personally observed a number of the [counter-protesters] handing out these items. I secured a number as evidence,” the officer said.
The defense lawyers argued that the existence of such sticks did not mean their clients were culpable, but Ayres said he had a photo of one of the defendants with the weapon.
Attorney: Felarca is ‘most publicly known opponent of Trump in California’
During the Dec. 6 hearing, CHP’s Ayres said Felarca’s “leadership was clear” that summer day in Sacramento.
“People were drawn to her,” the officer said. “I observed Ms. Felarca using a bullhorn, encouraging the crowd based on the general idea that they wanted to stop the permitted party from assembling. She called for unification — ‘by any means necessary’ was one of the phrases. ‘Shut them down.’ The thing that stands out clear to me is when she said, ‘We beat their asses.'”
Felarca has also been charged with inciting a riot, a misdemeanor.
Felarca’s lawyers have argued that the teacher’s prominence as an activist made her a target of Sacramento law enforcement and prosecutors.
Felarca is a fixture at Berkeley protests, including the many clashes between the far-right and far-left that often turned violent in 2017, and has sparred with her employer for years. As school was starting back up in September 2016 after the Sacramento rally took place, Berkeley Unified put Felarca on paid leave, but she was reinstated a couple months later.
Felarca has appeared on Fox News to defend her beliefs, drawing national attention to the teacher and school district. Recently, Felarca, who currently teaches part-time, unsuccessfully sued BUSD to stop the district from releasing emails about her to a right-wing group that requested them.
Felarca’s actions have made her “the most publicly known opponent of Donald Trump in the state of California,” claimed lawyer Driver during a small rally outside the courthouse Dec. 6.
On Tuesday, Felarca declined to comment on how the hearing has gone so far, saying she would wait to see how it unfolded.