Brandon Bochat and Hagan Warner, suspected of vandalizing the Black Lives Matter mural in downtown Santa Cruz
The two men suspected of vandalizing the Black Lives Matter mural in downtown Santa Cruz, Brandon Bochat and Hagan Warner.
(Via Santa Cruz Police Department)
Government

Mixed results in arraignment of men accused of vandalizing Santa Cruz’s Black Lives Matter mural

Brandon Bochat pleaded not guilty Wednesday to felony vandalism charges with a hate crime enhancement, while Hagan Warner was granted a delay as he seeks a new attorney. The co-defendants are next scheduled to appear in court Feb. 10.

UPDATE: The two men charged with vandalizing the Black Lives Matter mural in front of Santa Cruz City Hall last summer will return to court in a month’s time following a split arraignment and continuance Wednesday morning.

Defense attorney Micha Rinkus entered a plea of not guilty for her client, Brandon Bochat, who appeared via Zoom. Co-defendant Hagan Warner — who appeared in court with family and friends — asked for a continuance to replace his current counsel. Both face charges of felony vandalism with a hate crime enhancement and reckless driving.

The two are due back in court Feb. 10 after Judge Syda Cogliati gave Warner a month to find a new attorney, but it could be three months or longer before a trial actually begins, Assistant District Attorney Michael Mahan explained, noting that Warner’s new counsel will need to review evidence from the preliminary hearings.

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“We’re sort of in a holding pattern,” Mahan said.

Warner asked for two months to search for new counsel, which Cogliati denied, offering up to a month. Compounding the delay is the fact that Rinkus is scheduled to be out of the country through the first week of February.

The not-guilty plea — alongside the delay in proceedings — led to visible and audible disappointment from community members and activists in attendance.

Community members have expressed their disappointment in the delays to justice, saying that the continued impact of the men’s actions go far beyond the mural’s vandalism — and that “it’s long past time for the defendants to take responsibility for this.”

PREVIOUSLY: The two men charged with vandalizing the Black Lives Matter mural in front of Santa Cruz City Hall last summer are scheduled to be back in court Wednesday for arraignment, where they could enter pleas and a trial date could be set.

The case headed for trial after Superior Court Judge Syda Cogliati ruled Dec. 15 that there was enough evidence against Brandon Bochat and Hagan Warner to proceed with felony charges that include a hate crime enhancement.

During that hearing, Assistant District Attorney Michael Mahan presented numerous pieces of video evidence from security cameras around city hall the prosecution says shows the defendants doing burnouts across the mural, with additional videos from Bochat’s Snapchat of the two defendants with other men who were yelling racial slurs and giving Nazi salutes.

Local activist groups — including the muralists themselves, the Santa Cruz Equity Collab — have asked for a restorative justice ruling, so the defendants can assist in undoing the vandalism themselves. It is unclear if that option would be available should the defendants enter a “not guilty” plea.

Local activist and community advocate Emma Ledvina told Lookout that, given the uniqueness of this case, it should address how the vandalism affects the community at large.

“There’s so much focus on the financial aspect, but no one is really talking about the emotional impact to the Black community and the BIPOC community,” she said.

During an October court hearing, Mahan said the Santa Cruz Equity Collab estimated restoration could cost as much as $114,000.

Previous coverage

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