Aerial view of the vandalized mural.
(Via Santa Cruz Police Department)

Men accused of vandalizing Black Lives Matter mural to stand trial

Following a preliminary hearing Wednesday, a Santa Cruz judge ruled there was enough evidence for the two men accused of vandalizing the Black Lives Matter mural outside City Hall to stand trial. They are next due in court Jan. 5.

Brandon Bochat and Hagan Warner will stand trial on charges of felony vandalism — with a hate crime enhancement — and reckless driving for allegedly destroying the Black Lives Matter mural outside Santa Cruz City Hall in July, a judge ruled Wednesday.

During a preliminary hearing, prosecutors presented numerous pieces of video evidence from security cameras around City Hall that they said showed the two occupying a truck — determined to be Warner’s — doing a series of burnouts over the mural.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Mahan also showed videos from Bochat’s Snapchat of the two defendants with other men who were yelling racial slurs and giving Nazi salutes.

Defense attorneys for the two men argued that “Black Lives Matter” is effectively a political group, not a racial one, and the hate crime enhancement was not appropriate. Superior Court Judge Syda Cogliati, however, did not agree.

Local activist groups had been hoping to resolve the issue by way of an alternative justice system in which defendants make reparations that help undo the wrong done. In this case, they advocated for Bochat and Warner to repair the mural as well as to work with their groups to better understand the implications of what they did.

The preliminary hearing for the two alleged vandals of the downtown Black Lives Matter mural is slated for Oct. 7, and...

Activist Joy Flynn said though a formal restorative justice path through the Neighborhood Courts is off the table due to the felony charges, the ruling is a step in the right direction.

“Now it’s up to them to restore themselves in a genuine way and to take responsibility for what’s been done,” she said.

During a court hearing in October, Mahan said the group that planned and paid for the mural — SC Equity Collab — said restoration could cost as much as $114,000.

The two are next due in court Jan. 5.