Under a plea agreement, the Sacramento District Attorney is set to dismiss a case against Berkeley teacher Yvette Felarca and two co-defendants related to a neo-Nazi rally and counter-protest more than three years ago.
Felarca and two other activists were scheduled to go to trial Thursday over felony assault charges and misdemeanor rioting charges, but left the morning court hearing, in front of Judge Richard Sueyoshi, with only a community service requirement and stay-away order.
“This is a victory,” said Felarca, a King Middle School teacher and controversial activist with By Any Means Necessary, in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “Of course I’m relieved, it’s just been a long process and a struggle. I’m really so happy for all three of us. To me it’s a real affirmation of standing by your convictions.”
Thursday’s decision could conclude a case brought in the aftermath of a white-supremacist rally on the steps of the State Capitol in June 2016, which saw protests, stabbings and brawls. The Sacramento D.A. charged Felarca with felony assault, with lawyers showing a video in court seemingly depicting her hitting and yelling at an alleged neo-Nazi that day. Her case was one of the handful a few years ago that turned “Nazi punching” into a meme.
Felarca was also charged with inciting a riot, a misdemeanor. Co-defendants Michael Williams and Porfirio Paz faced similar charges.
Felarca said she ultimately pleaded “no contest” to the misdemeanor charge of unlawful assembly.
The D.A.’s office said the defendants are each required to complete 90 hours of volunteer work at an approved nonprofit, and can’t go to any “lawful protests” until they do. If they fail to complete that requirement within 18 months, they could be sent to jail for 90 days and put on informal probation for three years, said spokeswoman Shelly Orio in an email. They’ve also been ordered to stay away from the Capitol.
“Assuming the volunteer work is completed, and they have abided by the other conditions, the case would be dismissed after 18 months,” Orio wrote.
Felarca and her lawyers consistently argued that the Sacramento D.A. and law enforcement at the scene were conducting a “witch hunt” against the teacher and other anti-fascist protesters. Both sides acknowledged that nine people who ended up in the hospital with stabbing wounds that day were counter-protesters. However, the California Highway Patrol initially recommended charges against 100 counter-protesters and just five people from the white-supremacist groups Golden State Skinheads and Traditionalist Worker Party.
The D.A.’s office adamantly denied prosecutors were politically biased, saying they simply pursued cases where they had strong evidence, like the video of Felarca. One neo-Nazi, William Planer, was also sentenced to four years in prison after the Sacramento rally.
“It’s still my opinion that my case was really strong and if we took it to trial we’d win,” said Felarca, who said she’d resisted “pressure” to split her case off from the other defendants’. “We’ve been really loyal to each other.”
By Any Means Necessary has often called on supporters to come rally outside the Sacramento courthouse and attend the many hearings in the case over the past couple years. There was a lively turnout Thursday, according to Felarca.
Felarca, who’s had a heated relationship with Berkeley Unified, said she is back to teaching full-time at King, after teaching part-time last year and being placed on leave before that. District leaders have shared that administrators were bombarded with calls demanding Felarca’s firing after the Sacramento events — and particularly after the teacher went on Fox News to defend herself.
Throughout the case, district leaders said they were “monitoring” the developments and would “take action” if the occasion arose.
Felarca said Thursday that she plans to continue teaching at King.
“That’s not changing,” she said.
Correction: The defendants are required to do 90 hours of volunteer work, not 90 days, which we stated in the original story. The ruling says if they fail to comply they could be sent to jail for 90 days.