White (nationalist) privilege
Why didn’t the CHP do more to investigate the possible neo-Nazi stabbings of leftist agitators?
After he was stabbed five times while protesting a pro-Trump gathering of white supremacists outside the state Capitol, Vincent White Jr. spoke with two California Highway Patrol officers.
According to California Highway Patrol reports released in court, White said he was chased across the Capitol grounds by three people, including a short white man who caught up to him and sunk a blade into his body several times.
He gave that account the evening of June 26, 2016, just hours after a melee erupted between neo-Nazi supporters of the far-right Traditionalist Worker Party and the anti-fascists who were there to disrupt their rally. Fresh out of surgery and on pain medication, White passed out during the interview, the officer wrote.
Four days later, CHP Officer Donovan Ayres entered White’s hospital room and took a second statement. White, who is black, reportedly told Ayres he attended the rally to stand up to the KKK.
The state’s lead investigator eventually submitted a report that presented White as the aggressor—and the white nationalists granted a permit to assemble by the CHP as the victims.
“He ran towards the permitted group when they came on Capitol grounds, and was stabbed during the fight,” Ayres wrote. He recommended that White face 16 criminal charges.
As for the person who stabbed White, Ayres determined that he couldn’t be identified.
White wasn’t the only leftist to experience a seemingly counter-intuitive law enforcement response to the riot. According to court documents, Ayres recommended 576 criminal charges for 100 leftists—and a total of five charges for five people aligned with the far right.
While the Sacramento County district attorney’s office declined to act on the vast majority of Ayres’ recommendations, his year-long investigation into the Capitol clash has come under renewed scrutiny. Ayres has been the prosecution’s lone witness in preliminary hearings against three antifa defendants. The case against the one accused white nationalist, meanwhile, last month stumbled into a mistrial.
Attorneys for the antifa three have not been subtle in attacking the CHP’s handling of the case. In their motion to dismiss what they’ve labeled a discriminatory prosecution, the United for Equality and Affirmative Action Legal Defense Fund claims authorities were more aggressive in building a case against opponents of white supremacy than bringing its knife-waving adherers to justice—with troubling ripple effects across America.
June 26, 2016, is a date that will live in controversy for both the state of California and city of Sacramento.
Rumblings of a confrontation brewed online for roughly two weeks before members of the Traditionalist Worker Party and Golden State Skinheads assembled outside the Capitol to fete their choice for president.
The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies both organizations as hate groups.
The riots that ensued served as a preview of what would happen a year later in Charlottesville, Virginia, where authorities tasked with maintaining order during a Unite the Right rally instead became passive bystanders to violent confrontations.
In their motion to dismiss, attorneys with the San Francisco-based legal defense fund chart a direct link between the two events, which were organized by Traditionalist Worker Party founder Matthew Heimbach.
“The police policy of allowing the fascists to get away with their attack at the State Capitol in 2016 set off a chain of events that began with the near-murders in Sacramento and ended with the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville,” the motion states, referring to a white nationalist plowing his car into a crowd of demonstrators.
A CHP spokesman declined comment, citing the agency’s policy of not commenting on active litigation.
Keeping opposing factions separate during combustible public events should be law enforcement’s primary goal, says Milo Fitch, a retired Sacramento County sheriff’s official and former crowd control instructor. But it isn’t always easy.
“Infiltration happens,” he said. “You have to have a sense of what’s going on.”
The CHP, which is responsible for protecting the Capitol and tracked the social media chatter leading up to the day of the event, issued the permit and devised a security plan that even elected officials have derided as hands-off.
“What happened at the state Capitol, that should’ve never have happened,” Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents downtown, said during a February council committee meeting on a shelved Police Department proposal to ban certain items from protests. “The CHP did not show up that day to work.”
Ayres testified in court that he watched the chaos unfold from the Capitol’s ivory roof, where his view of the fighting was often obscured by the treeline or the portico over which he stood.
Four days later, Ayres entered San Juan Hospital to find a sutured and stitched-up White. Ayres wrote in his report that White told him he had arrived in Sacramento from Chicago just days earlier and learned of the rally from a homeless man who slept in a parking garage. Ayres wrote that White met people the day of the event who “gave him items to use during the protest, but he didn’t remember anyone’s name.”
After the interview, Ayres recommended that prosecutors charge White with more than a dozen crimes, including multiple counts of assault with a deadly weapon, inciting a riot and brandishing a weapon.
The DA’s office didn’t file charges against White or the vast majority of leftists that Ayres accused of crimes. That list also includes high-profile activist Jamier Sale, whom Ayres recommended be charged with two crimes, according to a defense motion.
Reached by phone on February 27, Sale said he was unaware the CHP targeted him for prosecution.
“I wasn’t aware of that,” he said. “Why are they not putting all this attention on people who actually stabbed people?”
That part of the investigation ended differently.
In his report, Ayres wrote that he conducted “a lengthy video review” to determine whether a convicted gang member and admitted skinhead named Derik Punneo was responsible for any of the knife attacks.
Ayres wrote that he confirmed Punneo did have a knife in his right hand and was close to White, as well as two other protesters who were stabbed, cut or gashed. Ayres wrote that a knife similar to the one Punneo possessed was later found in some bushes near the Capitol’s south walkway, but that there was no DNA evidence linking the knife to Punneo.
Ayres didn’t indicate whether he tested the knife for fingerprints or interviewed Punneo directly, but he wrote: “I formed the opinion Punneo possessed a lawful knife, came under attack from the protestors and defended himself from the attacks.”
Eight of the leftists on Ayres’ charge sheet were seriously injured, including four who were stabbed like White, defense attorneys claim.
In late February, a Sacramento Superior Court judge declared a mistrial in the lone case against a white nationalist defendant. A DA’s spokeswoman confirmed William Scott Planer is scheduled to be retried March 19 for assault and rioting.
As for Yvonne Felarca, Michael A. Williams and Porfirio Paz—who have been identified with the leftist groups By Any Means Necessary and the Brown Berets—a judge arraigned them March 6 on assault and rioting charges. Their dismissal motion was continued.
The motion’s claim that the CHP singled out antifa participants while failing to pursue alleged knife attacks by skinheads picks at a historical scab from the 1960s, when local and federal authorities were more likely to spy on civil rights activists than investigate civil rights abuses.
One of the exhibits defense attorneys include in their motion is a copy of a signed search warrant seeking the personal user information of people who visited the local antifa’s Facebook page between April and July 2016.
“History will be the judge of that,” Sale said. “We look back at the ‘50s and ‘60s … and now we look back and see them as monsters.”
Rob Hessee is a retired Placer County sheriff’s official who used to run his department’s gang unit, where he focused on white power gangs. Hessee, who now works as a licensed investigator for defense attorneys, said he believes some cops can be improperly swayed by their personal feelings. Meaning, if some witnesses are more cooperative and friendly to cops than others, the cops may be implicitly biased to focus their investigative resources in a certain direction.
“That is a reality,” Hessee said.
The CHP didn’t share details of its investigation with the media. Officials with the Sacramento Police Department, which provided additional security at the rally, previously told SN&R that their investigation into the violence was stymied by the fact that no one from the antifa side would speak to them.
A month after the events at the Capitol, Punneo was featured in TV news segments participating in a “Blue Lives Matter” event supporting law enforcement in Folsom.