STOCKTON — The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office has declined to prosecute most low-level crimes committed by demonstrators protesting officer-involved shootings in Stockton in recent years.
The District Attorney’s Office has cited Supreme Court rulings and protections set forth under the United States Constitution, but protesters might have lost those protections after Friday’s demonstration turned violent, authorities said. The Stockton Police Department on Wednesday was still investigating acts of violence and vandalism that allegedly occurred during the demonstration, but Deputy District Attorney Ron Freitas said he expected to receive reports on those incidents within 24 hours.
“We’ve received several briefings from law enforcement, we’ve talked to individuals who were engaged in the protest and we’ve received information from witnesses, but we haven’t received the actual reports yet,” Freitas said.
Police are investigating a report that more than a dozen protesters, some wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts and bandanas over their faces, viciously attacked a 46-year-old white woman and her two teenage daughters outside a Red Robin restaurant on Pacific Avenue. In a video posted on his Facebook page, protester Xavier Rapadas described how he punched one of the female victims during the racially charged attack against “them white b------.”
Rapadas removed the video and changed the name on his Facebook profile to Gone Missing sometime Tuesday night. He later deactivated or deleted his Facebook profile. There were also reports that protesters hurled a water bottle at officers, kicked a police car and might have carried out a second assault.
Officer Joe Silva, a spokesman for the Stockton Police Department, said Wednesday the investigation into those incidents was ongoing. Police have been trying to identify suspects for the past several days, but Silva would not say whether any had been identified.
The demonstration was held to protest a series of officer-involved shootings in Stockton over the past few years, including the recent shooting death of 30-year-old Colby Friday. Police said Officer David Wells shot Friday when he disobeyed commands and attempted to pick up a handgun he had dropped during a foot pursuit.
Protest organizers said they were holding the demonstration to demand video footage from Wells’ department-issued body camera. Silva said that footage will not be released until a multiagency protocol investigation into the shooting is complete.
In past demonstrations, the District Attorney’s Office has repeatedly declined to prosecute protesters who blocked traffic and resisted officers. According to documents obtained by The Record on Wednesday under a California Public Records Act request, the Police Department has forwarded at least seven cases to the District Attorney’s Office for review since April 2014.
In a letter sent to Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones on Aug. 25, District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar said the Police Department’s requests for criminal complaints in three of the cases were denied “because the individuals were engaged in a constitutionally protected activity.” Freitas explained that protesters are granted protections for offenses such as jaywalking and obstructing traffic if they are participating in a peaceful demonstration free of violence and vandalism.
“Peaceful protests have been a part of our history going back 50 years to the 1960s, and we’ve seen this kind of conduct,” Freitas said. “So long as it’s these minor kinds of infractions occurring in a peaceful nature and you don’t have violence or threats of violence, they’re protected.”
Freitas could not immediately say whether those protections apply to demonstrations in which protesters do not obtain the proper permits under the city’s municipal code. Silva said permits were not issued for any of the demonstrations held in Stockton in recent years.
“These were not permitted assemblies,” Silva said. “None of the organizers ever obtained a permit from the city.”
The acts of violence and vandalism reported at Friday’s demonstration could subject protesters to prosecution for a number of crimes they have been protected from in the past, authorities said. Freitas said he could not speculate on whether charges would be filed until he reads reports that are expected to be submitted by the Police Department today.
“One of the important things about a prosecutor is that we keep an open mind,” Freitas said. “What’s said in the press or what’s said in briefings or what’s said on the street may not be what happened or what’s in the reports. If we come in with a preconceived notion, it’s going to taint our judgment, so we’re looking forward to reading the reports and making a decision at that time.”
— Contact reporter Jason Anderson at (209) 546-8279 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at recordnet.com/crimeblog and on Twitter @Stockton911.