Uneven prosecution: Three leftists, one white nationalist charged in last summer’s Capitol clash

Activists’ attorneys say 13-month wait to bring charges puts clients at a disadvantage

Raheem F. Hosseini contributed to this report.
This is an extended version of a story that ran in the July 27, 2017, issue.

Mark Reichel and Linda Parisi are facing a serious investigative challenge:

More than a year after political chaos and bloodshed engulfed the state Capitol, the veteran defense attorneys will have to hunt for witnesses to an event that involved hundreds of protestors, two law enforcement agencies and several semi-underground activist networks. But that’s what it will take to prove that their clients acted in self-defense when they clashed with neo-Nazis during a blur of violence that hospitalized 14 people last summer.

Reichel is representing Porfirio Gabriel Paz, a left-leaning Long Beach activist who was picketing a permitted rally by the white nationalist Traditional Worker Party at the Capitol on June 26, 2016, when a fight erupted between the two sides. Parisi is defending Michael Allan Williams, another leftist protestor involved in the ensuing melee. Both Paz and Williams are charged with assault with a deadly weapon and inciting a riot, as is leftist Berkeley organizer and schoolteacher Yvonne Felarca, who often calls herself Yvette and is scheduled to be arraigned next month.

William Scott Planer, a reported white supremacist, is also charged with assault with a deadly weapon. News that three progressives and one white nationalist were being charged with crimes rattled Sacramento’s activist community this week.

Many shared images and videos on social media of self-identified skinhead Derik Ryan Punneo, who they allege can be identified attempting to stab two protesters in slowed-down footage from the event.

While the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office hasn’t explained its reasoning for charging the individuals it has, police told SN&R in the weeks after the event that victims and eyewitnesses declined to help their investigators identify assailants. The California Highway Patrol ended up sending a 2,000-page investigative report to the DA’s office in March, which included hours of video footage from numerous sources and recommended charges for more than a hundred people.

Other than the four individuals who have already been apprehended—in Yolo County, Southern California and Colorado—there are no additional outstanding warrants, the DA’s office has said.

On July 24, Williams and Paz appeared for separate arraignment hearings before Sacramento Superior Judge Joseph Orr. Williams was being held on $500,000 bail due to past criminal convictions. According to Deputy District Attorney Paris Coleman, Williams was found guilty in 1987 of attempted murder and served 10 years in state prison. Coleman argued that a strike on his record justified a higher bail. “It is an old strike,” Coleman said, “but it’s a significant one.”

Parisi told the judge that Williams had been a law-abiding citizen for 30 years and that she would petition a court to have the 1987 strike dropped from consideration in the matter. “Mr. Williams is a life-long member of the Sacramento area and works at the tribal college, and there is great deal of support for him in the community,” Parisi said. “The allegation against Mr. Williams is that he used a club, and we believe that if it’s determined a club was used, clearly he was acting in self-defense because of the volatile nature of the neo-Nazis.”

Orr ultimately lowered Williams bail to $50,000 and he was released the same day, according to online jail records. Parisi and Reichel acknowledged after the hearing that the yearlong wait for charges in a case involving so many pieces would test their years of legal experience. Nevertheless, both attorneys remained confident.

“We’re going to have a very aggressive defense for these people,” Reichel said. “This was mutual combat that was coming right at our clients.”