Following the student protests and occupation of Mrak Hall last November, the Yolo County District Attorney (DA) is continuing with its case against one arrestee on charges of assault on a police officer.
After the Mrak Hall protest, which occurred Nov. 19 of last year, 52 students and community members were arrested and taken into custody by the UC Davis Police Department. However, a week later, the DA’s office announced that it would not seek criminal charges against all but one of the arrestees.
Brienna Holmes, a senior sociology major, was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer. The officer in question, Capt. Joyce Souza of the UCDPD, maintains that Holmes struck her while resisting arrest outside of Mrak.
Although Capt. Souza could not be reached for comment, UCDPD Police Chief Annette Spicuzza described the circumstances under which the arrest was made.
“In order to safely get students outside, we had to set up a walkway,” Spicuzza said. “But there was a large group of individuals outside of Mrak who the officers had to keep back. As I was organizing things inside, it came over the radio that a student had attacked Capt. Souza.”
Spicuzza admits to not having witnessed the incident, nor did the UCDPD have any part in influencing the DA’s decision to seek charges, she said.
Stewart Katz, a civil rights attorney from Sacramento and Holmes’ legal representative, expressed confidence that the case against his client would fail.
“The main focus of our defense will be the simple fact that [Holmes] didn’t break the law,” Katz said.
He claims to have ample evidence, including civilian witnesses, police reports and video footage, that he believes prove Holmes’ innocence.
Holmes had her first court hearing on Feb. 25, in which Katz entered a not-guilty plea on her behalf. Following that, a pre-trial conference was scheduled for March 24.
According to Katz, Holmes did nothing that warranted conviction and it was unusual that the DA, Jeff Reisig, made the decision to charge Holmes himself.
Though Reisig could not be reached for comment, Assistant Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven provided details of Holmes’ court hearings.
According to Raven, Holmes’ attorney entered a not-guilty plea and Holmes was arraigned during the March pre-trial conference. In addition, a trial setting conference will follow on April 23, 2010.
Raven said other details of the case could not be released to the media in the event that the information influences the views of potential jurors.
Some still feel that the case against Holmes is unnecessary and inappropriate. During a second Mrak Hall protest on Nov. 26 of last year, students demanded that an apology be issued to Holmes, who they believed had been a victim of police abuse.
Holmes declined to comment, citing a desire to let the issue drop, and hope that the focus of the media could be redirected to what she believed to be the real issue at hand, the financial and budgetary crisis that students face.
Katz agreed, calling the whole situation a waste of time.
“The UC Davis Police Department and the Yolo County DA should be embarrassed,” he said. “This will be a circus, and they will be the clowns.”
Nevertheless, the DA’s office intends to proceed with the case, Raven said.
Additionally, another UC Davis student was arrested following the March 4 student protests for higher education. Senior sociology major Laura Mitchell was arrested on charges of inciting a riot as protesters broke through police lines in an attempt to march onto Interstate-80.
Mitchell was unable to be reached for comment. Her first court hearing was on March 18.
Asked what she felt about the situation, Spicuzza said she hoped for the best.
“[The cases] are going to the courts now,” she said. “I think we’ll let them handle it, and I think it’ll come to the resolution it’s meant to come to. You never want to see your students involved in these kinds of situations, but you also can’t ignore the law.”
KYLE SPORLEDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.