Aerial view of the vandalized mural in front of Santa Cruz City Hall with mural artist Abi Mustapha.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Civic Life

Alleged BLM vandals face preliminary hearing — and Santa Cruz community activists are watching

With 20-year-old Brandon Bochat of Santa Cruz and 19-year-old Hagan Warner of Boulder Creek due in court Thursday to face felony charges with a hate crime modification, Thomas Sage Pedersen is among those calling for restorative justice should a plea deal come to pass.

A preliminary hearing is set for Thursday for the two men accused of leaving skid marks across the Black Lives Matter mural painted on Center Street in front of Santa Cruz City Hall in July.

The two men, 20-year-old Brandon Bochat of Santa Cruz and 19-year-old Hagan Warner of Boulder Creek, were arrested several days later, and each faces a felony vandalism charge and one count of intent to commit a hate crime.

Thursday morning’s hearing was delayed from an earlier Sept. 20 date.

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Bernie Escalante, deputy chief of the Santa Cruz Police Department, said he expects a plea agreement to be reached shortly.

“The evidence is solid and I’m confident in the evidence collected and the work that has been done,” he said, adding that the accused men fighting the evidence would further hurt their public image. “The defendants don’t have much of a defense.”

Escalante said that he does not know what the likely consequences will be, and that there is a lot to take into consideration.

Community activists see this as an opportunity to promote and implement restorative justice, which they hope would see Bochat and Warner help with repainting the mural.

Thomas Sage Pedersen, host of the “Speak for Change” podcast and co-founder of the Black Kings of Santa Cruz County, believes this approach is imperative if the community is to move forward.

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“We are really pushing for a restorative justice model,” he said, adding that punitive measures are inadequate. “Something that allows the individuals to restore the damage not just to the mural, but to the community.”

Pedersen, a member of the racial justice initiative SC Equity Collab and someone who was vocal when the community met two days after the act, reminded that the mural was not simply a performative gesture, but a community-funded project.

“It was never specifically about the mural, but what it stood for,” he said. “Destroying it isn’t just damaging some paint on the ground. I think a lot of people need to get that into their heads.”

Further, Pedersen said he hopes the Santa Cruz community as a whole will take this incident seriously and recognize its significance.

Thomas Sage Pederson speaks Sunday morning.
(Grace Stetson / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“This isn’t just vandalism — it’s an attack on the community and that’s not OK,” he said. “Let’s hope the judge feels the same way.”

Bochat and Warner are both facing felony charges for the first time; whether they will be convicted of a hate crime remains a key question.

In June, California Attorney General Rob Bonta released new guidance and resources to help both the public and law enforcement better understand and address hate crimes. This includes new guidance for prosecutors on the best ways to combat hate crimes.

Under California law, a hate crime is defined as “a criminal act committed, in whole or in part, because of one or more of the following: disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation; or because of the person’s association with a person or group with one or more of these actual perceived characteristics.”

In a trial, the prosecution would have to establish that Bochat and Warner aimed to forcefully interfere with or intimidate a person or group from exercising their civil rights, and did so because of the “actual or perceived protected characteristics” of that person or group.

No matter the outcome in this particular case, Pedersen said he and the rest of the SC Equity Collab will continue to fight for a better future and urge others to do the same — no matter how difficult the task.

“We need to change the culture of our community to value diversity and that means doing some uncomfortable things,” Pedersen said. “There is really a lot of work to be done.”