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USAC Elections 2024SJP and UC Divest Coalition Demonstrations at UCLA

Legal aid, defense extended to detained UCLA protesters after encampment clearing

Pictured is the Metro Detention Center in Los Angeles. Students and faculty were held at the center after being arrested at the Palestine solidarity encampment Thursday morning. (Creative Commons photo by Levi Clancy via Wikimedia Commons)

By Shiv Patel

May 5, 2024 12:58 p.m.

This post was updated May 8 at 8:42 p.m.

For the Daily Bruin’s full coverage on the UC Divest Coalition and Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA encampment, see here.

Efforts are active to provide legal aid and defense to those detained Thursday after police cleared the Palestine solidarity encampment in Dickson Plaza. 

According to a Thursday statement by Chancellor Gene Block, more than 200 protesters were arrested following UCLA administration’s decision to disband the encampment. Block cited safety issues related to violence incited by counter-protesters Tuesday night and disruptions to campus operations in the university’s decision to order a dispersal.

Around 100 detainees were yet to be released as of Thursday afternoon, said Sergio Carbajo, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and member of UCLA Faculty for Justice in Palestine.

“Some groups have been released without charge,” he said. “Some others have been released, but it’s (they have been charged with) misdemeanors.”

Garrett Miller, president of Los Angeles County Public Defenders Union – Local 148, released a statement Thursday calling the events earlier that day “shameful and a complete failure of leadership.” The union represents attorneys in the LA County Public Defender’s Office, which offers legal services to defendants who cannot afford a private attorney. Miller said in the statement that the union is calling on both the district and city attorney’s offices to not press “life-altering” charges against those arrested. 

The district attorney’s office is responsible for prosecuting felony charges. The city attorney’s office is responsible for misdemeanor filings, which Miller said were the most likely charges for those arrested Thursday. 

Other organizations are also providing legal aid. Kate McFarlane, a former public defender,  said she is working with the National Lawyers Guild – a public interest association of attorneys – to assist detainees who have been arrested during demonstrations at UCLA and the University of Southern California.

“I know they (the guild) have been in contact with at least 100 people who have been arrested,” McFarlane said. “That’s a mix of students and faculty from both USC and UCLA.”

Christopher Bou Saeed, an LA-based criminal defense and civil rights attorney, also provided his contact for people to share with protestors who were arrested. Though he has offered his services, he has yet to receive requests for legal aid as of Friday afternoon. While he declined to speculate about potential charges for protesters, he said he has seen charges that he felt were unjust as a result of previous demonstrations. 

“In prior protests, there have been filings that I didn’t think were warranted, and I’ve represented people in the George Floyd protests with charges that I didn’t think were supported by the evidence,” he said.

An additional 43 individuals were arrested Thursday morning on charges of conspiracy to commit burglary.

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion calling on the public defender’s office to dedicate resources toward defending UCLA students arrested Thursday during the encampment’s police sweep and make legal aid and defense services clearly accessible to arrestees. Several UCLA students spoke during public comment at Tuesday’s meeting to advocate for the resolution, including multiple members of the Undergraduate Students Association Council (USAC).

“We were protesting peacefully but were harassed by counter-protesters who accelerated the violence, resulting in arrests and attacks,” said Eva Jussim, the USAC external vice president.

Jussim, who is also a fourth-year political science student, said many students cannot afford private attorneys and encouraged the board to pass the item.

USAC Internal Vice President Megan Law called for the resolution’s passage. She also called on the board to hold UCLA administration accountable and help to protect what Law called “students’ rights to free speech.”

Diane Zimmerman, a community member, called on the board to reject the motion, which was brought to the board by District 3 Supervisor Lindsey Horvath as item 89-A. 

“Be well ashamed of yourself if you use any of our taxpayer money to support the people that are literally abusing anyone who is Jewish on campus,” Zimmerman said.

District 5 Supervisor Kathryn Barger was the board’s sole vote against the resolution.

The public defenders union has previously expressed concerns at the workload faced by its members. While Miller acknowledged the workload issues facing public defenders, he said he was confident in the office’s ability to handle cases related to arrests at campus protests.

McFarlane, who was formerly employed by the office, also said she had high trust in the office’s ability to handle charges related to the demonstrations at USC and UCLA. 

“I have a lot of faith in the attorneys and the management there in general,” she said. “They did an excellent job, and they’re really good at organizing around situations like this.”

Contributing reports by Alexandra Crosnoe, Daily Bruin reporter.

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