California Men To Face Hate Crime Charges For Vandalizing Black Lives Matter Mural
Following an alleged sequence of burnouts on a Santa Cruz roadway in July that caused damage to a Black Lives Matter mural, two California men will face hate crime charges.
Brandon Bochat, 20, and Hagan Warner, 19, will be charged with felony vandalism and reckless driving with a hate crime enhancement after admitting to vandalizing the Center Street mural on July 23. However, they have denied that their actions were motivated by racial prejudice, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
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Santa Cruz Police Officer Elliot Rock testified in court on Wednesday that both men stated that their animosity was aimed toward the Black Lives Matter movement rather than toward Black people. Their attorneys have spoken out against the hate crime enhancement, claiming that Black Lives Matter is not a protected class under federal law.
Bochat’s attorney, Micha Rinkus, said, “BLM is not a protected group, it is a political organization. It is a very of the moment, very important, and very popular movement right now. If this act was done towards animus of a racial group, that is one thing. The act was political.”
Warner’s attorney, Jeffrey Stotter, stated that Warner’s actions were due to alcohol and “stupidity,”, not racism.
The men’s behavior, according to Santa Cruz County Prosecutor Michael Mahan, was part of an “ongoing pattern,” he claimed. He reportedly played a video taken from Bochat’s social media accounts, in which the two defendants were seen with other individuals chanting “White power” and making Nazi salutes.
An additional video dated Jan. 16 showed Bochat driving and making racial slurs while brandishing a handgun, which the court was unable to decide if it was real or a fake.
“To say this is them being boys doing something stupid truly minimizes what happened,” Mahan reportedly said. “There are other ways to make a political statement.”
Meanwhile, Santa Cruz Equity Collaboration Founder Sean McGowen informed the Sentinel that the ongoing cost of the mural has been $216,206.26. He also stated that the expected cost for repairs to the mural is roughly $115,000.
The two defendants are scheduled to return to court on January 5.
Stay tuned to The Scoop for any updates.