Santa Cruz judge rules on value of defaced Black Lives Matter painting – Santa Cruz Sentinel | WHs Answers

SANTA CRUZ — A judge is scheduled Monday morning to determine the value of a downtown street mural that reads “Black Lives Matter,” which was defaced a year ago.

Black Lives Matter Street Mural supporters Carol Morgan, Nikki Patterson, Daniel Nelson and Emma Ledvina watch as Brandon Bochat’s attorney Micha Rinkus speaks in court during a trial related to vandalism charges against Bochat and Hagan Warner. (Shmuel Thaler – Santa Cruz Sentinel File)

Contrary to normal court procedure, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Syda Cogliati, at the request of defense attorneys, is conducting redress hearings before reaching a finding in vandalism and hate crime felonies. Santa Cruz police officials have testified that defendants Brandon Bochat, 21, of Santa Cruz, and Hagan Warner, 20, of Boulder Creek, both admitted marking the painting after their arrest, although each later pleaded not guilty to the crimes known.

Defense attorney Micha Rinkus, representing Bochat, said during the December 15 preliminary hearing of the case that she hopes to “resolve this matter without going to court and all that goes with it.”

Brandon Boch.
Brandon Boch.

During a June 2 restitution hearing, Cogliati heard witness testimony about the painting’s value and directed prosecutors and two defense attorneys to proceed with separate case briefings to argue the proposed restitution dollar amounts in time for Monday’s decision. In his filing, Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney Michael Mahan argued that based on witness testimony, the painting’s replacement should be valued at nearly $89,000, a price tag that includes power washing, city permits, paint supplies, artist time and road closures. At $30 per square foot for a 2,750 square foot painting, the artist’s fee made up the majority of the estimate – $82,500. That amount was lower than the city’s previous estimate of about $115,000.

Hagan Warner
Hagan Warner

Defense attorney Ed Sidawi, representing Warner, said he argues that the refund should only be assessed at the expense of permit fees and paint because “the court cannot grant a speculative refund. It can only compensate for the economic damage.” A similar filing on behalf of Bochat was not immediately available on Friday.

‘More than ‘painting on the street’ ‘

The privately funded Black Lives Matter painting was originally created in September 2020 in front of Santa Cruz City Hall as an effort by community volunteers with the supervision and direction of local artists who donated their time. In June 2021, a group of the original organizers led artist collective Made Fresh Crew’s efforts to refresh the painting as part of a planned annual celebration and community talk. A little over a month later, two different drivers in a pickup truck with an American flag on the back bed each drove over the painting, leaving dark rubber burn marks in their wake, according to City Hall CCTV witnesses.

Lawyers for Bochat and Warner have questioned the proposed high cost of repairing or replacing the painting.

In a letter sent to the court by Mahan this month and signed by 44 supporters, the authors support a higher refund in the case and cite the cultural and historical significance of the artwork. The street mural was approved and sanctioned by the Santa Cruz City Council “during a crucial time of national reckoning and uprisings over racial justice and police brutality,” the letter said.

“It was much more than ‘color on the street’. This was a meaningful work of art for our community as a whole, and the Black community in particular,” the community letter said. “This piece symbolized safety, belonging and community caring – other groups have specifically held events at the site of this mural for this reason – and from that perspective this mural is priceless.”

Members of the Made Fresh Crew, a collective of Santa Cruz artisans who work together on projects, paint over the Black Lives Matter mural on Center Street in front of Santa Cruz City Hall on Sunday.  After the big June 16 celebration at Laurel Park on Saturday, many people came to their senses "In honor of June 16th" on Sunday at City Hall.  Sunday's event included music, poetry, speakers and round tables with activists, leaders and artists from the local black community.  The event was organized by the SC Equity Collab, a jointly led initiative sparked by the vigorous 2020 racial justice movement and founded around the creation of the Santa Cruz Black Lives Matter street mural by artist and activist Abi Mustapha was conceived.  (Shmuel Thaler - Santa Cruz Sentinel)
Members of the Made Fresh Crew, a collective of Santa Cruz artisans working together on projects, repaint the Black Lives Matter mural on Center Street in front of Santa Cruz City Hall in June 2021. After the big June 16 celebration at Laurel Park on Saturday, many people came to the “June 16 Honoring” at City Hall. (Shmuel Thaler – Santa Cruz Sentinel File)

Calls for restorative justice

Several community members who have commented on the case have urged the Santa Cruz County Attorney’s Office to find a finding that reflects the restorative justice model, which typically seeks to build public trust through direct interaction between victims and offenders to restore.

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