BLM mural vandals sentenced to probation, community service; ordered to pay restitution

SC Equity Collab co-founder Abi Mustapha speaks at a news conference after Friday's sentencing hearing.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

On Friday, Judge Syda Cogliati sentenced the men accused of vandalizing the Black Lives Matter mural outside of Santa Cruz City Hall to two years of probation and 144 hours of community service, and ordered them to pay $19,623 in restitution. They will have a probation review meeting on May 18.

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Nearly 100 community members and activists packed a Santa Cruz courtroom Friday for the sentencing hearing of two men who had pleaded no contest in the 2021 vandalism of Black Lives Matter street mural outside city hall.

Brandon Bochat and Hagan Warner were both sentenced to two years of probation, 144 hours of community service and ordered to pay a combined $19,623 in restitution, far below the $114,000 originally sought by the prosecution.

The money will be split between the City of Santa Cruz and the SC Equity Collab.

Judge Syda Cogliati also gave both men a 90-day suspended sentence, which will allow them to avoid jail time if they abide by the other conditions imposed by the court. The men will also have to attend a class or program on racial or ethnic sensitivity as part of their probation.

Cogliati also banned both men from driving with any measurable amount of alcohol in their systems and ordered that probation officers be allowed to search their phones and social media accounts for posts and messages related to crimes or bigotry.

Should the men adhere to all conditions of their sentence, they may petition the court to get their felony vandalism charge reduced to a misdemeanor. They have 60 days to appeal their sentence.

More than a year after Brandon Bochat and Hagan Warner allegedly vandalized the Black Lives Matter mural on the street...

Activists and community members expected the sentence, as it reflected Cogliati’s indication from October. However, they said it is up to the two men to actually follow through with their sentence.

“It’s good to see justice be served in a way that the community wants, but I don’t think there’s any closure until we see the sentence outcome,” Santa Cruz City Councilmember and county supervisor candidate Justin Cummings told Lookout. He was mayor when the mural was painted in September 2020.

On July 23, 2021, Bochat, then age 20, and Warner, then 19, took turns filming each other doing burnouts across the block-long BLM mural in front of city hall, leaving tire tracks across the entire painting. The two were arrested the following day.

On Oct. 24, the men entered no-contest pleas to felony vandalism charges with a hate crime enhancement and a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving. A no-contest plea means that they accepted punishment but did not admit guilt.

The SC Equity Collab, an initiative jumpstarted by 2020’s racial justice movement in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, brought more than 500 people together to paint the BLM mural in front of city hall. It was meant to convey a message of the Collab’s commitment to ensure that all Black lives matter, and that Black residents feel safe in the community.

Inside the courtroom

Dozens of community activists packed the court room Friday — so many that the court had to open up an adjacent courtroom with a livestream of the hearing to allow all members of the public to watch.

Notable attendees included Cummings, SC Equity Collab co-founders Sean McGowen and Abi Mustapha — who also spearheaded the mural project — Made Fresh Crew founder Taylor Reinhold, local activists Bella Bonner and Black Kings of Santa Cruz County co-founder Thomas Sage Pedersen.

Abi Mustapha
Abi Mustapha on the vandalized mural.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

About 15 community members gave victim impact statements, many of which focused on accountability and implored the men to treat the sentencing as an opportunity to remedy the harm that they caused. Several speakers also asked the court to take the SC Equity Collab’s recommendations seriously.

Some of those recommendations include requiring the men to make public apologies, help restore the mural, attend discussions and educational opportunities regarding the mural, pay the full estimated value of the mural in restitution, and participate in a racial justice training co-facilitated by the Equity Collab.

Justin Cummings speaks at the post-sentencing news conference.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“I’m not asking for our community to cancel you; you are also a part of my community. I’m asking for accountability,” said Mustapha. “I’m asking for an apology and for the court to help you take responsibility for rectifying the harm that you’ve done to our community.”

Pedersen, who hails from Hollister, said the men remind him of his stepbrother. He urged them to make an effort to connect with those affected.

“I can’t hate you guys — I really hope that both of you take this as an opportunity to connect with us and see the world outside of the perspective that you’ve been taught your whole life,” he said. “Restorative justice is to, hopefully, give you an opportunity to learn what it’s like to be in our shoes.”

Local activist Thairie Ritchie said he hopes the men understand their circumstances.

“I hope these individuals realize the privilege they’re afforded to be viewed as young and dumb for their actions by community members,” he said. “Black and brown youth over decades weren’t afforded this privilege for their mistakes and actions in the eyes of law enforcement and public opinion.”

McGowen said he wants both men to participate in discussions and dialogue around racial justice. He expressed anger and fear, first and foremost, citing previous video evidence at court that showed Bochat in a vehicle using racial slurs with what appeared to be a firearm.

“After therapy and meditating on all of this, I know it’s the role of the mural to create a compassionate space for everyone to have these conversations. We want to continue that and invite you to hold the compassionate space with us,” he said.

During the hearing, Bochat’s attorney, Micha Rinkus, and Warner’s attorney, Ed Sidawi, gave statements on behalf of their clients. They said that each defendant offers sincere apologies, and seeks to remedy the harm they’ve caused.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Mahan said he thinks that the court’s action is lenient, as he believes the indicated sentence reflects a felony vandalism rather than a hate crime. He said the court should refuse to accept these actions as “kids being kids.” He added, “This is how it’s happened for centuries.”

Assistant District Attorney Michael Mahan.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Mahan noted that Warner had shown some remorse in his statement to a probation officer in a pre-sentence report. According to Mahan, Warner said he was stupid and should never have done this. He also said that Warner admitted that he used racial slurs as a joke growing up because that was the society that was around him, but now knows that is not OK.

Bochat, on the other hand, “still doesn’t take this seriously, and shows zero remorse,” Mahan told the court. In his pre-sentence report, he claimed that his actions were blown out of proportion. Mahan shared text messages between Bochat and friends, in which he frequently used racial slurs, and even said that he wishes to kill Black people with his father’s firearm.

“Maybe in their hearts, they actually can be rehabilitated, and in the future, things can change for them,” Mahan said. “I believe that neither myself nor anyone in the community wants to be around people who harbor these feelings.”

Looking forward

The long saga has now come to a close, but pain and fear remain.

Activist and Yoga for All Movement founder Shandara Gill said that although the sentence did not include everything the prosecution sought, there’s more work to be done.

“The restitution amount wasn’t what we wanted, and we would all feel better if they didn’t have guns on them, and we still don’t know if they do,” she said. “It’s that fear of the unknown, and that’s why we’re still feeling like this isn’t over.”

Mustapha said that although the sentencing was no surprise, what she heard in the courtroom has left her “feeling more unsafe than when I came.”

“That’s what this looks like when we hear more about what people have done to perpetuate hate, or to say that they want to shoot people that look like me, and that they have access to weapons,” she said. “I’m not feeling super safe or comfortable knowing that person is just running around with that sentiment.”

SC Equity Collab Co-Founder and mural project lead Abi Mustapha.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Mustapha said that there is no clear timeline yet on when mural repair might begin, but the Equity Collab plans to hold a public event in January.

“Part of it is just waiting to see what we’re able to do with or without them [the defendants],” Mustapha said.

It was not immediately clear whether the men will work on repairing the mural as part of their community service, but Mustapha believes they should.

“It’s not my job to clean up their mess,” she said. “I do think that they should put their hands on it, and they should be the ones primarily restoring it.”

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