Brandon Bochat and Hagan Warner charged with hate crime after defacing Santa Cruz BLM mural. Motivated by racial hatred?
Judge Syda Cogliati ruled on Wednesday that there was sufficient probable cause to send Brandon Bochat, 20, and Hagan Warner, 19, to trial on charges of felony vandalism and reckless driving under the enhancement of a hate crime.
Bochat and Warner were allegedly drunk on July 23 when they drove over the large BLM mural running down Center Street, leaving black tire marks all over the yellows letters.
The two men admitted to defacing the mural, while denying that their actions were motivated by racial hatred the EastBayTimes reported.
A Santa Cruz police officer testified during Wednesday’s probable cause hearing that Bochat and Warner said their anger was directed at the BLM movement, not at black people, reported Santa Cruz Sentinel.
Warner claimed that he thought the yellow paint on the road was for the crosswalk, according to the officer’s account.
In opposing the hate crime enhancement, attorneys representing the defendants argued that Black Lives matter is a political organization, ‘not a protected group.’
Jeffrey Strotter, Warner’s attorney, told the court that his client’s actions that day were fueled by alcohol and ‘stupidity,’ not racism.
Santa Cruz County Prosecutor Michael Mahan countered by playing a video from Bochat’s social media in court, showing Warner and other boys yelling ‘white power’ and giving Nazi salutes.
Another video, recorded on January 16, appeared to show Bochat driving on a highway, pointing a real or fake gun at a car in front of him and making racial remarks.
In a bid to establish a pattern of behavior, the prosecutor also cited a statement from Bochat’s former classmate, who told police that she had heard him repeatedly use racial slurs while the two attended Soquel High School together.
‘To say this is them being boys doing something stupid truly minimizes what happened,’ Mahan reportedly said, referring to the mural vandalism. ‘There are other ways to make a political statement.’
Santa Cruz Equity Collaboration Founder Sean McGowen told the Sentinel that the estimated costs to repair the ruined mural are approximately $115,000, but could be even higher.
The mural is set to be repainted yearly as an ongoing discussion about systemic racial disparities in the U.S., according to McGowen.
Bochat and Warner are due back in court for their arraignment on January 5.