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Capitola War Protesters Won't Be Charged

Capitola War Protesters Won't Be Charged

by Michael Thomas

Protesters arrested outside the military recruiting offices on 41st Avenue will not face charges. The Santa Cruz County District Attorney's office made the announcement on Friday, May 2.

As the nation prepared for military action against Iraq in mid-March, the recruiting offices, which are located in a complex that houses a variety of commercial and private businesses, were besieged with protesters. On several days, a colorful group demonstrated along the sidewalk in front of the building, singing and chanting. A smaller group physically blocked the entrances to Air Force, Navy, Army and Marine recruiting stations, and openly expressed their intention to be arrested.

The Capitola Police Department sent a large number of its limited staff of officers to the scene on most days, at an estimated cost to the city of more than $20,000.

On Mar. 21, 13 protesters were arrested by the Capitola Police Department with assistance from a team of County Sheriff Deputies dressed in full riot gear. The individuals were issued misdemeanor trespassing citations and immediately released.

The misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of $400 or up to 90 days in jail.

According to District Attorney Bob Lee, such penalties "would not justify the time and expense in prosecuting these individuals."

Lee also cited the peaceful nature of the protest and the demonstrators' nonviolent cooperation with arresting officers as reasons for not pursuing penalties.

Capitola Police Department Lieutenant Mike Card said "we would have liked to have the matter prosecuted. We worked with the demonstrators to ensure a peaceful resolution. It wasn't until they insisted on being arrested that they were."
Protesters Upset at Missing Day in Court

The protesters' citations required appearance for arraignment on Apr. 23. The group staged a press conference and demonstration at the County Courthouse on that day, but discovered that they weren't on the court calendar.

Activist Nan Beltran said "I was upset that at least the first step hadn't been concluded to at least tell me what the charges were. Most of us have jobs, We have to take off work. It doesn't seem fair to inconvenience people like that."

Lee said the hearing dates are set by police officers, not by the County, and that his office needed some extra time to consider the charges.

"Any time you are dealing with people's constitutional rights, you have to consider those rights. It takes a lot of research," he said.

Realizing they wouldn't be charged that day, the protesters entered the building and filled the DA's reception area, until Lee came out to address them.

Lee said the demonstration at the Court House and the doors to his office was "no disruption whatsoever."

With the citations still on the books, the County could revisit them if the protesters are involved in similar incidents over the next year.

But with charges currently set aside, protester Nan Beltran expressed pride in the group's action.

"I feel good about what I did. I was trying to put myself forward to save lives," she said.

Beltran said that the fight isn't over. A group of activists was planning to pass out leaflets to potential recruits at the military offices in the coming week, but none have been seen there yet.


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