This past Friday charges were dropped against student protester Brienna Holmes for allegedly ‘resisting arrest’ and ‘battering’ Captain Joyce Souza of the UC Davis Police Department (UCDPD). The incident occurred during the protests against fee increases and budget cuts that resulted in the occupation of Mrak Hall last November.
The 12 members of the Yolo County jury gathered on July 26 to deliberate the two misdemeanor counts against Holmes. They reached a 10-2 vote for acquittal on the ‘battery’ charge, but deadlocked 6-6 on the ‘resisting arrest’ charge.
Following the jury impasse, the case was declared a mistrial and a new date was set with the presumption of a retrial. On August 6 the District Attorney’s (DA) office decided against re-filing the case and all charges against Holmes were dropped.
Many student protesters expressed concern about the possibility of a retrial of Holmes’ case, which they believed would be unnecessary and uncalled for. In an attempt to address the administration’s role in the conflict, students wrote a letter seeking support to since-retired Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Janet Gong.
Brian Sparks, senior international relations major and protest organizer, participated in the petition of the administration for support.
“We wrote the letter in order to make a public statement: we don’t want Bri to be charged anymore,” Sparks said. “[The case] should never have come this far.”
Stewart Katz, Holmes’ attorney, expressed doubt regarding the possibility of further prosecution attempts after the jury’s inability to reach a unanimous verdict.
“I don’t think she will be convicted even if they try it 10 times, and she shouldn’t be,” Katz said.
Katz insisted that Holmes’ behavior did not match the accusations that have been made against her.
“She was not trying to get arrested,” he said. “It’s not a situation where someone says ‘I’m going to commit an act of civil disobedience’, and then says ‘Gee wiz, I didn’t want to face the consequences’. She was lawfully attending a demonstration.”
Katz instead believes that the high emotion and tension between the police officers and the students is what gave rise to the conflict.
UCDPD Chief Annette Spicuzza called the situation “an unfortunate incident,” but affirmed that the decision to seek charges against Holmes was determined solely by the DA’s office and was not influenced by the UCDPD.
Assistant Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven also expressed discontent over the Holmes case, specifically the mistrial.
“We were disappointed with the outcome of the last trial but certainly respect the jury’s decision,” Raven said.
While some students argued that Holmes should not have to face a retrial after a jury deadlock, Raven instead contended that a hung jury meant the case required further deliberation.
“The fact that six jurors felt beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Holmes violated the law indicates that members of the community have some strong feelings about this case,” he said.
Some members of the community have expressed strong feelings about the situation, but are more concerned with the nature of the problem, rather than the case itself.
Edward Wildanger, a graduate student who was also arrested at last year’s Mrak Hall occupation but whose charges were suspended, asserts that the 32 percent tuition increase, which the students were protesting, have resulted in a multitude of problems including downsizing, layoffs and lower quality education.
“People will pay more money for worse education,” Wildanger said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
NOURA KHOURY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.