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Wednesday, May 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Possible Plea Deal Delays Arraignment of Anti-Fascist Protesters

After 30 months and a sprawling investigation into a neo-Nazi rally that turned violent in California, the arraignment of three counterprotesters was delayed Wednesday amid talk of a possible plea deal.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – On an early summer day in Northern California, a small assemblage of white supremacists carrying weapons and neo-Nazi signs marched toward the state Capitol. Members of the organization, deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, claimed they were in Sacramento to “speak up” for supporters of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump they felt were being silenced in liberal California. 

As temperatures rose above 100 degrees, the racists trudged toward the steps of the Capitol. They met a much larger group of counterprotesters, or what the Traditionalist Worker Party called “radical leftists.”

The California Highway Patrol permitted the rally and prepared with extra security, but things spun out of control: The white supremacists and the counterprotesters were armed and both sides wore disguises during the encounter. On that Sunday afternoon people were stabbed, local reporters were mobbed and the usually pristine Capitol lawns were spoiled with blood and hate.

The event attracted worldwide coverage and the videos shook lawmakers and residents who believed racist rallies couldn’t happen in the nation’s most diverse state.   

Over 30 months after the melee, the group now known as the “Sacramento 3” believes law enforcement ignored credible evidence against the Nazi sympathizers and instead targeted three of the counterprotesters.   

 “Why didn’t they make any arrests the day of?” asked Shanta Driver, an attorney for one of the anti-racist protesters being charged in Sacramento. “Nothing was done to investigate the injuries of the anti-racists.”

Driver represents the most notable of the trio – Berkeley resident Yvette Felarca, a longtime activist and middle school teacher. Felarca leads a leftist group called By Any Means Necessary. While Felarca faces a felony assault charge, Driver says her client was assaulted and stabbed during the event and is being targeted by prosecutors for “political reasons.”

In YouTube footage from the rally that was admitted into evidence during a December court hearing, Felarca is seen berating and punching a man named Nigel Walker in the stomach, directly in front of police.

“Get the fuck off our streets!” Felarca yells repeatedly as others pounce on Walker, who was dressed in black and toting a white nationalist flag.

A mob then swarms Walker and drops him to the ground before police intervene. The video captures a police officer shoving Felarca to the ground as he attempts to break up the scuffle. 

Felarca, who is five feet tall, says she was acting in self-defense that day and standing up against fascism. 

Prosecutors used bystander videos and the testimony of CHP Officer Donovan Ayres during preliminary court hearings over the last two months. Along with Felarca, 48, the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office charged Michael Williams, 58, and Porfirio Paz, 21. 

Ayres testified law enforcement was aware of the event over a month in advance and that he watched the melee from the roof of the Capitol. He also said the estimated 100 to 150 officers assigned to the event were spread out due to multiple confrontations that day.

In the months after the event, Ayres and the CHP filed search warrants to gain access to the social media accounts of the counterprotesters. He eventually filed reports on dozens of people that participated in the event. 

After a year-long investigation and thousands of pages of reports, authorities ultimately arrested and charged just one white nationalist and three anti-fascist demonstrators.

Driver and the other defense attorneys claim Ayres and the CHP investigators shielded the racists that organized the rally and are wasting taxpayer dollars pursuing the anti-fascists. She believes that the video is “partial and incomplete.”

The trio appeared in court for their scheduled arraignment hearing on a stormy day in downtown Sacramento on Wednesday, with approximately a dozen family and friends in attendance. Superior Court Judge Steven Howell accepted the parties’ request to postpone arraignment until March 6 to continue negotiations.

Following the short hearing, Driver told Courthouse News the defendants and the DA’s office are “relatively close” to reaching some sort of plea deal. She also told the small gathering of supporters that there is still a chance that the charges could be dismissed altogether before the arraignment hearing in wake of a recent decision in the case against the lone white supremacist implicated in the protest. 

Last week, Judge Stacy Boulware Eurie declared a mistrial in the case against William Scott Planer, who was accused of striking someone with an object during the event. After several rounds of deliberations, the jury deadlocked 8-4 to convict Planer. He could be retried. 

Driver believes the DA would be taking an unnecessary risk by continuing to pursue the Sacramento 3 in light of Planer’s mistrial.

“I don’t think they can get a unanimous decision,” Driver said. “To convict a teacher who got stabbed in the head, I don’t know.”

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