By Stephen Baxter, Santa Cruz Sentinel
SANTA CRUZ >> A judge Thursday said she planned to sentence six UC Santa Cruz students to 30 days in jail, fines and up to $40,000 in restitution if they plead no contest to charges in a protest that shut down Highway 1 in March.
Prosecutors declined to plea bargain with the four women and two men in the protest. Thursday, Santa Cruz County Superior Judge Denine Guy for the first time described her potential sentence. Guy also asked jail leaders to look into whether the six might be eligible for a jail alternative such as community service, work release or probation.
The group’s charges of misdemeanor creating a public nuisance and misdemeanor resisting arrest carried a potential sentence of 18 months in jail if they were found guilty in a trial. Prosecutor Kristal Andersen said the judge’s indicated sentence came despite her objection.
“We believe that this conduct merited more jail time than just 30 days,” Andersen said outside court.
March 3, the six students chained themselves together with pipes, concrete and trash cans and blocked the south lanes of Highway 1 near the Fishhook bridge, the California Highway Patrol said. About 85 law enforcement officers and firefighters responded to the highway, which was shut down for five hours as authorities used a jackhammer and other tools to untangle them.
The group said they were protesting tuition hikes, racism and nationwide police violence.
The defendants are Ethan Jacob Pezzolo, 19, of Santa Cruz; Janine Victoria Caceres, 21, of Los Angeles; Alexander Bryant Pearce, 19, of San Francisco; Sophia Jeanne DiMatteo, 19, of Sherman Oaks; Lori Leigh Nixon, 28, of Santa Cruz; and Sasha Lee Petterson, 19, of Oakland. They are all out of custody.
UC Santa Cruz leaders suspended the group for 10 months and assigned them to at least 100 hours of community service. Until Jan. 1, 2016, the six are not allowed on campus, defense attorney Linda Rigas has said.
Thursday, Judge Guy ordered the group back in court May 7 for a status hearing in which the group is expected to plead no contest to the charges. In May or June, separate half-day hearings are expected to determine the group’s sentence and restitution amount.
Restitution to pay for the law enforcement response could be $20,000 to $40,000, prosecutor Rob Wade said. The group would be responsible for the final sum.
Attorneys have said that the sentencing hearing could include testimony from drivers who were inconvenienced by the March 3 highway shutdown. Drivers or other residents who want to be involved can call the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Office at 831-454-2400.