More than a year after Brandon Bochat and Hagan Warner allegedly vandalized the Black Lives Matter mural on the street in front of Santa Cruz City Hall, the men pleaded no contest to felony vandalism charges, a hate crime enhancement, and a misdemeanor reckless driving charge. They will be sentenced Nov. 18.
Almost exactly three months after Brandon Bochat and Hagan Warner saw their trial date and restitution amount set, the men accused of vandalizing the Black Lives Matter mural in front of Santa Cruz City Hall entered no-contest pleas Monday to felony vandalism charges with a hate crime enhancement and a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving. The pleas come more than a year after the incident.
A no-contest plea means that the men accept punishment for the crimes, but do not admit guilt.
Superior Court Judge Syda Cogliati indicated that punishment would include one year of probation with 90 days in county jail suspended, 144 hours of community service each, and to each pay $10,000 in restitution. The total restitution amount had been set in late July.
The men would also be required to attend a class or program on racial or ethnic sensitivity as part of their probation.
They are set for sentencing Nov. 18 at 10 a.m.
On July 23, 2021, Santa Cruz police say, Bochat and Warner 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.
Though the case is now coming to a close, community issues around justice and tolerance remain.
Local artist and co-founder of the SC Equity Collab Abi Mustapha, who spearheaded the mural project, said she feels her fears for the case are coming true and wonders about the accountability of those involved.
“This is a slap on the wrist. $10,000 each is nothing, and community service is nothing,” she said, adding that she would request that the community service hours be pertinent for this kind of hate crime. “We’ll see what happens in the end, but this doesn’t exude a lot of confidence in the legal system.”
She further worries that this saga does not bode well for the future, with much of the holdup coming from the back-and-forth over the restitution amount.
“In a place where people have a lot of money, this sets a bad precedent,” she said, adding that she feels that the long process has resulted in a lack of meaningful action. “There is some accountability, but it feels performative.”
Bochat appeared in court in person Monday for the first time along with his attorney, Micha Rinkus. He had previously appeared only virtually. Warner also appeared in person with his attorney, Ed Sidawi.
Should the men violate their probation, they would be subject not only to the 90-day suspended jail sentence, but could also face up to seven years in prison. However, the vandalism charge could end up being reduced to a misdemeanor offense if the men adhere to all conditions of probation and do not commit any more criminal offenses during that time.
Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney Michael Mahan said that he will do further research before the sentencing hearing to ensure that the current restitution amount is deemed sufficient.